In 3 Days to Kill, Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) – a 30-year veteran “cleaner” (read: assassin) for the CIA – learns that he’s dying from terminal brain cancer, shortly after he collapses during a failed mission to track down a mysterious terrorist known as “The Wolf” through his associate, “The Albino” (Tómas Lemarquis). Ethan thereafter heads to Paris, in order to spend what precious time he has left (no more than five months) with his American ex-wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and estranged teenage daughter, Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld).
However, before he settles into retirement, Ethan is made an offer by CIA employee Vivi Delay (Amber Heard): if Ethan helps her locate and kill “The Wolf”, she will provide him with both a high payoff and injections of an experimental drug that could significantly prolong his life. Ethan takes the deal, but between torturing crooks for information, watching after (and bonding with) Zooey while his wife is out of town, and dealing with the side-effects of his treatment, it’ll be a wonder if Ethan makes it out of the next three days alive.
3 Days to Kill was co-written and produced by Luc Besson, who’s known for writing the Transporter and Taken movies, among other pop European action/thrillers (see: District B13). Similar to his previous offerings, this new Besson project wraps adrenaline-fueled action sequences around a warm gooey center (a rekindled father-daughter relationship), with a fair amount of social/political subtext and some quirky humor. Unfortunately, 3 Days to Kill is more miss than hit for Besson, as the individual components just never seem able to work together in harmony.
Besson and co-writer Adi Hasak (who also collaborated on From Paris with Love) rely on some half-cooked plot devices – like how Ethan’s experimental medication causes him to blackout if his heart-rate goes too high – to tell a worthwhile story about a man dealing with the repercussions of his work, and his decision to prioritize his career over family. Unfortunately, because the various subplots (which include tracking down “The Wolf” and a family of Malian squatters residing in Ethan’s apartment) never organically fit together, they often feel like distractions, not enhancements, to the film’s narrative core – which is a decent father-daughter melodrama.
Aesthetically and thematically, 3 Days to Kill resembles other Besson-penned Euro-thrillers, enough so that you might never guess it was directed by McG – whose previous work in the espionage genre includes the cartoonish Charlie’s Angels movies and the action/rom-com, This Means War. McG and Besson have collaborated before (the former produced the latter’s Nikita TV series), so there’s some precedent for how McG slides into Besson’s world of high-octane, yet non-exploitative world-of-action filmmaking. Still, although the shot and editing choices are clean and coherent, there’s a lack of rhythm or cinematic showmanship to much of the film – making 3 Days to Kill a generally brisk ride, but not as kinetic or enthralling as other Besson productions.
Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld serve as the heart of the film, helping to elevate the underserved father-daughter story into a solid, if unremarkable, part of the show. 3 Days to Kill isn’t the effective vehicle for Costner the over-50 action hero like Taken was for Liam Neeson, but Costner is solid as ever and his no-nonsense demeanor helps to make even the ridiculous and/or cloying elements (like running jokes about his clothes or a purple bike he buys for Zooey) more passable. Similarly, Steinfeld turns in yet another fine performance and helps to make Zooey feel like a believable teenager (if not exactly a memorable one).
Amber Heard as Vivi Delay – an enigmatic figure who’s very much her own boss – reads as a fun character, between her constant wig-changing and suffer-no-fools attitude; sorry to say, Heard’s performance is lacking and her screen time never feels as lively or zestful as it should’ve been. Connie Nielsen as Ethan’s ex-wife is likewise a solidly-written female character (not just the love interest for Costner), though she’s also not really onscreen long enough to make a strong impression or serve much more purpose besides moving the plot along. Still, the way that the women in Ethan’s life represent his conflicting interests (work, love, the future) makes it easier to appreciate what the film is going for – even though it doesn’t clear the bar.
As for the rest of the supporting cast: Eriq Ebouaney as Jules – the patriarch of the Malian family that seeks refuge at Ethan’s place – is a buoyant personality and has easy-going charm, which makes his scenes pleasant – even though their purpose in Ethan’s character arc (not to mention, significance as cultural commentary) winds up muddled. Lastly, certain players show up and leave too quickly to leave an impression (see: Jonas Bloquet as Zooey’s boyfriend, Hugh), while the villains – be it Tómas Lemarquis as “The Albino” or Bruno Ricci as an Italian cohort named Guido (with a passion for spaghetti sauce) – are pretty much live-action cartoons, who exist to either look diabolical or serve as the butt of off-beat gags.
To sum it all up: 3 Days to Kill offers little substance that hasn’t been handled more effectively in previous Besson Euro-action/thrillers. Solid performances from its leads and respectable action sequences (which are not exactly plentiful here) provide the film with the kind of satisfactory entertainment value for lazy Sunday afternoon viewing – not really something worth paying the full-ticket price for the big screen viewing experience.
3 Days to Kill is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 117 minutes long and Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and language.