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Yet another member of the AARP generation of action movie stars returns to show us how it’s done in 3 Days to Kill, marking Kevin Costner‘s first big-screen leading role in many a moon. Playing Ethan, a dying CIA agent enticed to go on one last mission by the promise of an experimental drug that could prolong his life, the veteran actor effortlessly exudes the cool charisma, here tinged with a comic world-weariness, that reminds us why he became a star in the first place.
It’s a good thing the film has him, because this comic spy thriller is such a preposterous mashup of action, humor and sentimentality that it desperately needs his anchoring presence. Based on a story by Luc Besson, who also co-scripted, its main plot element is not Ethan’s perfunctory assignment to kill a eurotrash villain but rather his intense desire to reconnect with his long estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). Cue a running gag in which every time Ethan is about to, say, torture a bad guy, he’s interrupted by a phone call from Zoey signaled by her personal ring tone, the Icona Pop song “I Love It (I Don’t Care).”
Ethan, whose hacking cough in the first moments indicates that he’s got more than a bad cold, is recruited for the mission by Vivi (Amber Heard), a vampish CIA handler who apparently thinks that the best way to keep a low profile is to wear skintight leather outfits and bright red lipstick. Constantly smoking a cigarette to indicate her coolness, she’s the sort of ridiculous creation that would no doubt inspire riotous chortling were the film to be screened at Langley.
Ethan’s mission is to kill “The Wolf,” who makes it his business to supply dirty weapons to terrorists the world over. But he finds it a little hard to concentrate on the job at hand when he’s simultaneously trying to deal with Zoey, who harbors longstanding resentment over his absent fatherhood, and the large brood of squatters who have taken over his ramshackle Paris apartment.
Director McG, who trafficked in similar territory with 2012’s This Means War, throws in enough high-octane action sequences, including a harrowing car chase through the streets of Paris, to please genre fans. At age 59, Costner is still physically up to the task, convincingly beating up guys less than half his age.
But what clearly attracted him to the role was not the pro forma tough-guy stuff but rather the complicated family dynamics that tax Ethan far more than his mission. Tasked with taking care of Zoey for three days while his wife is out of town, he’s perpetually bewildered by the rebellious young woman who disdains the garish purple bicycle he’s given her as a peace offering.
This results in some amusing moments, as when Ethan interrupts his interrogation of an Italian bad guy to force him to get on the phone with Zooey and tell her his mother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce, or when he takes lessons in fatherhood from an informant (a very funny Marc Andreoni) whom he mainly keeps locked up in the trunk of his car.
The screenplay by Besson and Adi Hasak also makes some humorous nods to Costner’s past film career, such as when, after rescuing Zoey from some sexual predators at a rave, he lifts her up in his arms as he did Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard. And his pursuit of the villain’s milquetoast accountant recalls his similar quest in The Untouchables.
Costner handles all this with a deadpan comic flair, looking great in the scruffy jeans that inspire one bad guy to comment disparagingly, “He’s from Brokeback Mountain.” When he finally dons a sharp black suit late in the film, the admiring glances he gets from his wife and daughter are sure to be echoed by female audience members of all ages.
The film features enough scenic Parisian locations to virtually qualify as a travelogue, with nary a familiar landmark overlooked. When he finally teaches an embarrassed Zoey how to ride her new bike, he does so not in a secluded spot but rather in the tourist-clogged hills of Montmartre.
There are some overdone plot devices, such as Ethan’s constantly collapsing from the ill effects of the drug just as he’s about to nab one of the bad guys. And the increasingly fond relationship between him and the squatters, including an adorable young boy with whom he learns to high-five, is too cutely rendered by far.
It’s all absurd in a way that is typical Besson. But it’s also undeniably entertaining, and it marks a relatively pain-free way to kill, if not three days, at least a couple of hours.
Production: 3DTK, EuropaCorp, Relativity Media, Wonderland Sound and Vision
Cast: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen
Screenwriters: Luc Besson, Adi Hasak
Producers: Marc Libert, Ryan Kavanaugh
Executive producer: Tucker Tooley
Director of photography: Thierry Arbogast
Editor: Audrey Simonaud
Production designer Sebastien Inizan
Costume designer: Olivier Eriot
Composer: Guillaume Roussel
Rated PG-13, 117 minutes
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival