“3 Days to Kill” is a Joyless Cinematic Mess
3 Days to Kill, the new film starring Kevin Costner, has a major identity crisis. Is it a thriller about Eastern bloc terrorists trafficking in nuclear materials and dirty bombs? Is it a quippy action vehicle with playful mayhem and a breezy tone? Or is it the tender drama of a world-weary assassin with a serious illness who longs to reconnect with his daughter before it might be too late? In an effort to be all of these films at once, 3 Days to Kill manages to do none of these things successfully. It ultimately proves to be a haphazard mess of a film that can’t be saved despite the best efforts of its veteran star.
Ethan Renner (Costner) is a “jobber” for the CIA. His freelance operations have taken him all over the globe. Renner agrees to take the clichéd “One Last Job” and work with Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) to bring down an international terrorist known as The Wolf. Renner isn’t solely taking on the assignment for God and Country. He has a fatal disease, and Delay promises him an experimental drug in exchange for his cooperation. Also, part of the operation will take place in Paris where Renner’s former wife and daughter are now living. (Isn’t it nice when you can kill people during the day and reconnect with the fam at night?)
Along the way, Renner encounters characters with names like The Albino and The Accountant. He tortures information from them as he chats with his daughter on the phone about cooking dinner for her boyfriend. He leaves them tied up in the trunk of his car while he attends a disciplinary meeting at his daughter’s school to address her violence toward her classmates. Hilarious? No. Thrilling? No. Howlingly silly? Yes.
Kevin Costner does his dead level best to sell 3 Days to Kill to his audience, but he receives little assistance from anyone in front of, or behind, the camera. Amber Heard (Zombieland) is a disaster as his CIA handler. She sports a different wig each day for no apparent reason, dresses like a dominatrix and meets with Renner in strange locations because it’s cool to take a meeting next to a big giant aquarium. Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Ender’s Game) is passable as Renner’s daughter, but you never invest in any of her bonding moments with her father. Her character comes off as the typical whiny, ungrateful movie teenager who ultimately has a change of heart. The entire cast of villains are the usual Euro trash cartoons, so it’s hard to get invested in capturing or killing them.
The directing and editing combine to form one big distraction. The action scenes are choppy. It’s often hard to discern who’s who until the fight is over. I found my mind drifting to Philippe Le Sourd’s beautiful martial arts cinematography from The Grandmaster. Even dramatic moments are stepped on by abrupt cuts to a new scene. My wife attended the showing with me and whispered more than once, “How did we get here?” How, indeed. Ask the screenwriter. You could make a drinking game out of spotting the continuity errors, but you’d be under the table after the first thirty minutes.
A lot of my criticism of 3 Days to Kill would apply to many classic action films from the 80s and 90s. Confusing, contrived plot points. Slim characterizations. Lack of a consistent tone. However, there is one big difference here: 3 Days to Kill isn’t fun. It’s a ponderous, joyless mess of a film that had me looking at my watch every ten minutes until the credits rolled.
3 out of 10
(for Costner’s efforts)
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.