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'3 Days to Kill' is Okay if You Have 100 Minutes to Lose

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Friday, Feb 21, 2014
Kevin Costner may be on some kind of career comeback, but 3 Days to Kill won't bring him to where he once was before. It's acceptable, if unexceptional entertainment.
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3 Days to Kill

Director: McG
Cast: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Richard Sammel, Eriq Ebouaney

(Relativity Media; US theatrical: 21 Feb 2014 (General release); 2014)

It happened sometime around 1994. Kevin Costner, superstar. Kevin Costner, Oscar winner. Kevin Costner, American everyman and all around cinematic good egg was riding a wave of success that included his own Academy Award earning effort (Dances with Wolves), a beloved bit of magic realism (Field of Dreams), a searing look at the Kennedy Assassination (JFK), and the two strikes and you’re out insider overview of the nation’s (former) past time (Bull Durham). Sure, there were some questionable career choices thrown in amongst the gold (The Bodyguard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the attempted acting stretch of A Perfect World) but it seemed that, for all intents and purposes, Costner was an A-lister whose celebrity would outlast other dime a dozen dramatic/comic leading men. He was both a commercial and critical hit.

  
It happened sometime around 1994. Kevin Costner, superstar. Kevin Costner, Oscar winner. Kevin Costner, American everyman and all around cinematic good egg was riding a wave of success that included his own Academy Award earning effort (Dances with Wolves), a beloved bit of magic realism (Field of Dreams), a searing look at the Kennedy Assassination (JFK), and the two strikes and you’re out insider overview of the nation’s (former) past time (Bull Durham). Sure, there were some questionable career choices thrown in amongst the gold (The Bodyguard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the attempted acting stretch of A Perfect World) but it seemed that, for all intents and purposes, Costner was an A-lister whose celebrity would outlast other dime a dozen dramatic/comic leading men. He was both a commercial and critical hit.


Then the backlash set in for his revisionist Western (which beat Goodfellas for both Best Picture and Best Director, believe it or not). Then Waterworld hit and sank like a flooded metropolis. Wyatt Earp was usurped by Tombstone and Tin Cup looked like an obvious attempt at recapturing past sports film glory. In 1994, however, it all came crashing down. Costner offered up his second credited directorial effort (though many believed he made most of Waterworld as well), the dystopian future shock claptrap known as The Postman, and suddenly, his supposedly polished public and professional persona was tarnished. Around that same time, Costner divorced his wife of 16 years, starting stumbling into the TMZ tabloid spotlight, and saw the typical pile of substantive scripts laid at his door dwindle to a paltry few.


Over the last 20 years, he’s maintained his profile while picking through the minimal choices he was given. Some were very good indeed (Thirteen Days, Open Range). Others marked the maneuvering of a man still trying to suss out his options (Dragonfly, Swing Vote, Rumor Has It… ). Now, it looks like Costner has shifted over into competent character actor mode. He was excellent as Superman’s dad in Man of Steel and recently reinvented the CIA operative overseer for the Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit reboot. Yet as a lead, Costner continues to find the pickings slim. Case in point - 3 Days to Kill. Forged inside that noted French Action Factory - otherwise known as co-writer/producer Luc Besson - and helmed by another has-been, McG, this attempted action comedy with dopey dramatic family tussle overtones may seem like the kind of thing Costner could play in his sleep. Sadly, no one told him and the rest of the cast to be so somnambulistic as a result.


This is dull, derivative stuff, the kind of self-referential swill they needs someone more clever than the maker of the two Charlie’s Angels movies to deliver. McG may have found a niche in the more ludicrous action/RomCom field (we liked This Means War, so sue us) but you expect something more vital from the man who made Terminator: Salvation (on second thought…). Anyway, Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA agent who is trying to reconnect with his estranged family - wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and angry teenager daughter - as if there is any other kind in the movies - Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld, a long way from the Coens’ True Grit remake). This sudden desire to do right by his significant others comes from the fact that Ethan has found out he is dying. Of course, just as he tries to make things right, a high ranking CIA operative named Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) shows up with an offer he will find hard to refuse.


You see, the US Government can give Ethan access to an experimental drug that ‘may’ extend his life. All he has to do is agreed to take down The Wolf (Richard Sammuel), a nuclear weapons dealer who likes working with the terrorists. One last job and…well, you can guess the rest. For some reason, right at the very moment that Ethan is agreeing to the deal, Christine is called away on business and Daddy is stuck looking after his pouty, pain in the a-dolescent. Naturally, trying to keep her out of harm’s way is not going to be easy and The Wolf (and his associates, The Albino and The Accountant…no, seriously)  wants to make sure that anyone who tries to take him down will pay the ultimate price. Meanwhile, the audience has to put up with the same old father/daughter shtick, Paris pours on the local charm, and McG tries his best to make the action feel fun and frenetic. He almost succeeds. Almost.


Indeed, 3 Days to Kill is like one of those late night stumble across time sucks where you know what you’re watching is weak, but it’s basically innocuous and capable of filling an otherwise nondescript 90 minutes of your time. Costner is just fine, his costars capable, and the atmosphere argues for both potential excitement and energy. Yet, when viewed in total, it’s the Shakespeare of star vehicles - full of sound and fury (and proposed funny business), but ultimately signifying nothing. You’re never invested in Costner as a character, you never fear for his family dynamic - Heck, there is even something unbelievable about the death diagnosis. It’s almost as if Besson (in collaboration with From Paris With Love‘s Adi Hasak) realized that the whole “last job” angle wasn’t enough to keep a contemporary crowd engaged and so he added both a personal and an interpersonal threat to get us involved. It doesn’t fly.


Even worse, we are still suffering from the overly shaky, heavily edited school of thrills here. McG is usually a little more controlled, but there are at least two action sequences that are ruined by our inability to easily follow what’s happening. Also, there are red flag herrings everywhere, from Heard’s tight skirts and bright red glossy lips to The Wolf’s ambiguous end game. Again, the scripting is just too sloppy to provide a clever resolution to a myriad of loose ends. Actors and their various aesthetics can only provide so much support for this kind of movie. Without the intricate plot machination or clever last act twists, we are taken for a ride we won’t remember once it’s over. Kevin Costner may be on some kind of career comeback, but 3 Days to Kill won’t bring him to where he once was before. It’s acceptable, if unexceptional entertainment.


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