A modest accomplishment that’s only successful because it’s relatively funny, 3 Days to Kill isn’t a film that you need to see but it works well as background noise and if you happen to glance at it every now and then, you’re going to have a moderate amount of fun. Strangely, it works primarily when it focuses on its central family conflict, which in this case involves an estranged father attempting to reconnect with his now-teenage daughter.
The film stars Kevin Costner as dying CIA Agent Ethan Renner, who in the opening scene fails to kill a man named The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis), who is a lackey for the main bad guy, The Wolf (Richard Sammel). It turns out that he has cancer that has spread from his brain to his lungs. He subsequently retires and heads to Paris, where his wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), reside, and spend time with them in the few months he has left. But, as all retired CIA Agents need to find out, there’s no quitting. He’s visited by Vivi (Amber Heard), who offers him experimental drugs in exchange for one final job.
Ethan then has to juggle his schedule between finding a way to kill The Wolf and spending time with his daughter. He has no idea how to be a dad; his only skill set appears to be connected with interrogating and shooting people. So, we get action scenes involving him doing just that, as well as dramatic and comedic moments involving him learning about his daughter and failing to understand how to interact with teenagers.
Thrown into the mix are several recurring gags which are quite entertaining, more than a couple of shootouts, one or two hand-to-hand combat scenes, and a good chunk of Kevin Costner trying to prove that, even though he’s almost 60, he can still carry an action movie. Given that the script was co-written by Luc Besson — why else would it be set in Paris? — I can only guess that Liam Neeson was first approached to star, but chose to decline. That’s probably for the best. Costner is better at the deadbeat dad routine.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is a silly, dumb, convoluted and convenient movie. But it’s not without its pleasures, and they almost make up for its readily apparent flaws. There’s more than enough comedy to keep things entertaining, and the familial drama will likely hit home with anyone who feels like they haven’t quite been the parent they could. This is familiar material but that doesn’t make it bad. It will resonate with more people than it likely has any right to.
This is not the action-packed thriller that it has been advertised as. There are far more quiet moments than loud, exciting ones. It works better as comedy than as suspense. The scenes when Ethan teaches his daughter to, say, ride a bike are better than endless shootouts. How often do action heroes stop to do those types of things? His attempts to make amends for the time he spent away are admirable. You root for him not just because he’s the protagonist, but because he’s a good person.
3 Days to Kill did feel as if it wasn’t as polished as it could be. Some of the edits are jarring, and there are certain scenes that felt like they were censored to keep the PG-13 rating, but the actors couldn’t record new dialogue so their sentences were just cut short. A noticeable amount of ADR is also noticeable, which is a little weird given what I just said, but there you go. Both of these take you out of the experience. When you’re noticing editing like this, it ruins the immersion of the film. I’d like to see what an extended cut of this film looks like — and knowing Besson’s track record, we might just get one.
Kvein Costner does a good job at both being an unstoppable CIA Agent — except by the cancer, which shows up at the most inconvenient of times and gets tiring in its persistence to delay inevitabilities — and an awkward father. The role isn’t exactly a stretch but seeing the two sides of him makes for some good entertainment. Hailee Steinfeld as the teenager who might be attempting to get under his skin on purpose is also enjoyable.
Amber Heard seems to be coming from a different movie. Her look and actions scream femme fatale but the rest of the film has no need for this type of character, and it makes no sense for her to act in this manner given the situation and everyone around her. Connie Nielsen disappears for a long stretch in the middle of the film and rarely gets to do anything other than be another body on-screen. We almost saw a shot of the Eiffel Tower — because what better landmark to remind us we’re in Paris? — more than we saw her.
3 Days to Kill is a film that I’m happy to report isn’t terrible. It could have been disastrous. It’s mostly just too dumb and convenient to be of much consequence. It’s funny, dramatic, and I suppose action-packed enough to hold most people’s attention. It will make for superb background noise once it hits home video. The actors are game, it’s rarely dull, and I can’t see it getting too many people upset. Its highlights come more from the comedic and dramatic side than the action. While I don’t recommend going out of your way to see it, if it hits late-night TV one night, there are worse ways to spend an evening.