I like Kevin Costner, and I like action films about hit men. But “3 Days to Kill” felt more like 117 minutes to fill, with screenwriters Luc Besson and Adi Hasak throwing in so many clichés that, like those Guess How Many Jellybeans jars, I quickly lost count.
Director Joseph McGinty Nichol, who drank the “Prince” and “Madonna” Kool-Aid and prefers to be called by one name only—“McG”—was the executive producer for the “Nikita” TV series, so it’s not the first time he’s worked with Besson, the filmmaker who gave us two top-notch professional killer flicks, “La Femme Nikita” and “Leon: The Professional.”
But in “3 Days to Kill,” believability is the first target.
Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA “lifer” who’s the man on the ground for a big operation aimed at taking out an international arms trafficker nicknamed “The Wolf” and his right-hand man, “The Albino.” These two guys look like the baddest asses around as they strut into a building with a full complement of henchmen, but no one seems to give them a second glance. They blow the top off a building and all hell breaks loose with everyone shooting and vehicles on the street flying into the air. And right in the middle of this crucial operation we’re supposed to believe that Ethan insistently takes time out to phone his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) to sing Happy Birthday? Or that when the smoke clears and sirens sound, the good guys with flashing lights seem to know instantly that the scruffy-looking Ethan is on their side?
Everything about that opening is logically strained and so clichéd that you get deja vu at every turn, trying to recall which bits and pieces you’ve seen in which other films. Then there’s that nasty, tubercular cough that Ethan has. When the diagnosis comes early that he has only a few months to live, he just walks away from his job and says he ought to have retired and gone back to his family years ago? Now, I don’t have close ties to the CIA so I can’t tell you how it really works, but it makes no sense to me that a man who’s just killed a half-dozen people and seems to have made a living killing for the past 15-20 years can just walk away without any debriefing or new identity or something.
As he walks away from the action, so do we, and the next door that opens feels like a quick entry to another movie, “The Visitor,” as he returns to his Paris apartment and finds a whole family of squatters from Africa living there. Then, just as abruptly we leave that situation and he next turns up at the home of his estranged wife and teenage daughter.
Just when we think it might be a film about reconciliation, a female CIA agent (Amber Heard) who’s as over-the-top and stylized as anything you ever saw in a ‘60s spy spoof enters the picture. So in addition to believability and clichés, tone becomes a problem. Films like “Lethal Weapon” did a far better job of integrating family concerns with gritty good guy vs. bad guy violence and infusing a tense action film with humor. I can think of plenty of others as well that have done a better job, and “3 Days to Kill” suffers from comparison. Tonally, it’s all over the place. One minute it’s a gritty actioner, the next minute it’s a tender story, then we wonder if it’s a parody or spoof, and finally those attempts at humor make us think it’s really just a clumsy attempt to duplicate the success of other films.
But everything about this film is just a little too pat—like the “experimental drug” he’s offered to prolong his life if he keeps working for the CIA or the quick turnaround his wife (Connie Nielsen) makes—or else it’s too gimmicky, like the inappropriate purple bike with a bell that Ethan buys for his already-dating daughter. Yet, Ethan has a ritual of calling her, which seems to imply that he hasn’t been estranged from her but has kept in touch, so he wouldn’t be as clueless about her as the film depicts, and she wouldn’t be as standoffish and resentful. So is that just a device to give Ethan an obsession throughout the film, a quirky aspect? Of course, because when she won’t have anything to do with it, he latches on and goes everywhere with that purple bike, riding it himself and getting very upset with people who try to take it from him.
Even when “3 Days to Kill” takes a “Father of the Bride” turn and gets all schmaltzy on us, with Ethan teaching his daughter how to dance (really?) and belatedly teaching her how to ride that purple bike to the applause of standers-by, those attempts at warmth seem as contrived as the action and plotting. Is it entertaining to see an overprotective father use his CIA skills to take out guys who would take advantage of his little girl? Of course, And maybe that’s the only part of the film that’s believable.
“3 Days to Kill” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language. We get two versions here: the 117-minute theatrical presentation, and a 122-minute extended cut.
The film LOOKS good, at least. The level of detail is incredible, and with minimal grain there’s a high-gloss, industrial look with that trademark bluish cast, especially in the early going and in scenes showing the CIA operatives and their nemeses. “3 Days to Kill” is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and transferred to a 50GB disc via a near-flawless AVC/MPEG-4 encode that’s marred only by several nanosecond instances of banding.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, English and Spanish, and the soundtrack really has some heft to it. The bass comes through even in effects speakers, which is unusual and may cause some vibration, but for the most part the sound is fully immersive, rich, and clear as a blown-up bell.
I was glad, actually, that there weren’t many bonus features, because the movie was quite enough for me. All we get is a 10-minute “making of” featurette, a five-minute profile titled “McG’s Method,” and the best of the bunch, a five-minute piece on a real CIA operative who talks about his past.This combo pack comes with DVD and Digital HD with UV.
By no means is “3 Days to Kill” unwatchable, nor is it a good film by any definition. At best, it’s a diversion, the kind of thing you’d probably select for an in-flight movie.