Saturday, February 22, 2014

3 Days to Kill

3 Days to Kill is a muddle, a movie that tries to blend genres and tones with mixed results. Kevin Costner affects a deep, raspy growl to play Ethan Renner, a CIA agent in pursuit of a terrorist named Wolfgang, aka “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel). You read that right, what we have here is the kind of movie in which nicknames are that obvious and in which the CIA is represented by a bombshell named Vivi (Amber Heard) with a taste for wigs and no need for backup. After Ethan falls ill during a job in Serbia he’s diagnosed with cancer and given months to live. When he returns home to Paris the movie switches tracks. The search for The Wolf is secondary to the story of Ethan reconnecting with his family, especially his wary teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit). Ethan’s ex (Connie Nielsen) trusts him to watch Zoey while she’s away on business, but there’s a hitch: Vivi wants Ethan to kill The Wolf in exchange for cash and access to a new drug that might save his life and definitely causes hilariously ill-timed seizures.

The role of Ethan actually isn’t a bad one for an actor of Costner’s vintage who has a taste for playing loners with a vulnerable streak. Ethan is gruff but winning with Zoey and seductive with his ex, all the while modeling the latest in fight choreography for the middle-aged. Hailee Steinfeld is a good match for Costner, playing Zoey with a guarded intelligence that belies the character’s age. There’s a decent movie in this relationship, but it keeps getting interrupted for action scenes that don’t matter enough and "comic" scenes of Ethan roughing up people who can lead him to The Wolf. The scene in which Ethan interrupts an interrogation to solicit a spaghetti sauce recipe should either be hilarious or pointed, but it's somehow neither. Director McG (it’s hard not to adorn that name with quotation marks or a trademark symbol) stages a dandy car chase through the Paris streets and a couple of good close fights, but since The Wolf is barely a character these scenes just feel like filler. Even odder are all the scenes involving Vivi, played by Heard in her initial scene as a no-nonsense intelligence officer and through the rest of the movie like the cousin of Sydney Bristow from Alias. I wouldn’t expect any less from co-writer/producer Luc Besson, whose films display a love of espionage and little feel for how it actually works. Besson directed last year’s The Family, another action movie with a sentimental streak, and he favors heroes who succeed despite the system as opposed to stories of Le Carre-like tradecraft. It’s no accident people keep referring to Ethan as a “cowboy”. There are good moments here, but despite Costner’s old-school skills 3 Days to Kill is finally just a way to kill a February afternoon.

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