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Review: 3 Days to Kill (2014)

3 Days to Kill (2014)

Directed by: McG

Premise: An aging CIA agent (Kevin Costner) discovers he has a terminal illness. While he tries to patch up his relationship with his estranged family a mysterious agency operator offers him an experimental drug in exchange for one final mission. 

What Works:  3 Days to Kill was co-written and produced by Luc Besson, who is also credited on Leon: The Professional, The Transporter, and Taken. These films exemplify the Besson formula, which is to juxtapose violent action set pieces with a domestic story. In many of Besson’s films a violent professional is paired with a child and he has to balance his job as a killer with his responsibilities to a young woman. In 3 Days to Kill, Kevin Costner is cast at a father who has been absent due to his obligations to the CIA but when he discovers that he is terminally ill he tries to mend his relationship with his teenage daughter, played by Hailee Steinfeld. The father-daughter relationship between Costner and Steinfeld is consistently fun to watch and 3 Days to Kill plays best when it emphasizes the comedy and the familial storyline. Both Costner and Steinfeld are very good in their roles. This part is a unique one for Costner; he’s played violent characters before but he’s rarely done comedy and he’s able to convey both the violent and the paternal qualities of the character and find the humor in the contrast. Steinfeld is also impressive. She has a vulnerability and innocence that makes her come across as a genuine teenager instead of the unbelievably precocious young characters of most Hollywood movies. Together, Costner and Steinfeld give the movie a solid center and it’s just too bad the filmmakers don’t make better use of it.

What Doesn’t: 3 Days to Kill was directed by McG, a filmmaker who has consistently generated mediocre action titles like Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation, and This Means War. This director has virtually no visual style and the fights and chases of 3 Days to Kill are frequently underwhelming. There’s no ferocity or peril to the action scenes and they are often pedestrian with the same stunts and angles repeated from one set piece to the next. This is indicative of a more fundamental problem of 3 Days to Kill. The story never has palatable stakes. The action portion of the movie puts Costner’s character in pursuit of a terrorist but who this person is and why he has to be stopped are never clear. The film opens well enough with the villains acquiring a dirty bomb but the explosive is recovered in that same sequence. From then on the villain disappears from the story and poses no immediate threat. Costner’s character goes on a series of errands in an attempt to track down and kill the terrorists but these scenes are disconnected. There is no momentum to the story and many of these scenes could be rearranged in any order without making a difference to the logic of the film. The father-daughter relationship has a similar problem. The filmmakers don’t provide enough meaningful moments between the characters and when they do it’s grossly miscalculated. At one point Steinfeld’s character deceives her father and goes to a dance club where she is drugged and taken to the bathroom by a group of men, presumably to be sexually assaulted. Costner’s character saves the day but this moment introduces themes and ideas that are too heavy for the lighter tone of the rest of the picture. When the movie gets to its climax it fails to merge the spy action and the domestic subplots. For the story to work these elements need to merge together, as they do in successful movies like True Lies, but they never do and so the conclusion does not really resolve anything.

Bottom Line: 3 Days to Kill is an uneven movie. It might have been better if Luc Besson had directed it as well as co-written it. But even with a better director this film needed a much tighter script and despite moments of successful humor it isn’t as thrilling as it should be.

Episode: #480 (March 2, 2014)