When the name Luc Besson is attached to a film, audiences can reliably expect an action movie with a bit of whimsical humanity to break up the shooting, punching, running and driving. And while Besson only has writing and producing credits this time around, 3 Days to Kill still feels very much like a Luc Besson film. Unfortunately, the expectations that the film sets up are out of sync with what the film actually delivers. This movie is less about a CIA operative out to get a high priority target, and more about an estranged father trying to get back into the lives of the family he left behind. The result of these mixed messages is two hours of mediocrity.
Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is an aging CIA agent tasked with bringing down an international criminal code named The Wolf (Richard Sammel). To get to him, Ethan must first intercept The Wolf’s right hand man, The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis). When the operation goes bad and they both get away, Ethan gets even more bad news: he has a terminal disease that leaves him only three months to live. With this career with the CIA over, Ethan decides to rekindle a relationship with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and his daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). Ethan’s end-life plans go relatively smoothly until he’s approached by Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), a CIA handler, who wants Ethan to renew his hunt for The Wolf in exchange for an experimental drug that could significantly extend Ethan’s life.
3 Days to Kill is unfocused, to say the least. It sets the tone for some very excellent gunplay early on, with awesome explosions and dynamic action. But as soon as Ethan is sidelined, the movies goes uncomfortably too long with him dealing with family affairs – not all of them his own. After getting out of the hospital, Ethan discovers that a family of squatters has taken over his apartment. According to Parisian law, squatters can’t be kicked out during the winter, so Ethan just has to put up with them. Why the filmmakers thought this subplot was necessary or even appropriate is anyone’s guess. Ethan’s experimental drug also has its own complications with its hallucinogenic side effects that can only be abated by vodka for some reason. Finally, there’s Amber Heard’s character Vivi, who seems completely normal in the beginning of the film, but magically turns into a trench-coat-wearing, sex-club-going eccentric by the next time she appears on screen. Evidently, too much got crammed in here, and the movie could easily have shed half an hour with little impact to the overall experience.
Regrettably, the meat of the movie is a cliché-ridden sitcom. Ethan’s main adversary in the film is his daughter, and she’s predictably difficult. She won’t even call Ethan “dad” when addressing him or introducing him to people. She’s rude and disrespectful and behaves in all the ways that would get real daughters slapped across the face – Child Protective Services be damned! She also reminds Ethan of all the things that she didn’t learn because he wasn’t in her life to teach her those skills, which, of course, sets up all of the expected heartwarming father-daughter moments that are necessary for this type of story. And had this film been an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, this story would have been fine, but this is a movie titled 3 Days to Kill. The family story should have been a subplot, but instead it ran so long with so little reprieve that men in the audience will casually get up to use the restroom or buy food from concessions with little fear that they’ll miss something good.
Ironically, once audiences get acclimated to the real movie, the cloak and dagger plot loses its importance, and audiences will just want to see how Ethan balances his job with his new, fragile relationship with his daughter. Some shining moments in the film are when Ethan receives phone calls while trying to interrogate targets. It’s in these absurd moments when torture victims share child rearing advice that the film hits its stride. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay in the pocket for very long.
It would be unfair to say that 3 Days to Kill is a bad film or that it was not entertaining. It’s competently directed, acted and choreographed. It’s just average, not showing anything more than what audiences have already seen in similar movies. Granted, mediocrity is not a compelling reason to watch a movie, but there are worse ways to spend your time if you have two hours to kill.