Friday, October 10, 2014

3 Days To Kill

Director: McG
Starring: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Richard Sammel, Tómas Lemarquis, Eriq Ebouaney, Raymond J. Barry
Running Time: 117 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)

The best thing about the otherwise unambitious but fairly enjoyable McG action thriller 3 Days to Kill is Kevin Costner's performance. It continues what has to be considered somewhat of a late-career resurgence for the actor who's as good as he's ever been lately, this time as a veteran CIA agent dying of cancer. The set-up is both more and less interesting than it sounds, with a script that sometimes cleverly blends the main character's professional and personal lives, while delivering few surprises. That means it's all up to Costner to carry this, which he does, playing a two-sided character that isn't completely unlike the one we saw him portray in 2007's overlooked Mr. Brooks, with the key difference being that this murderous character is a legally contracted one. And yet the two movies are nothing alike and his work impressively not even the slightest bit similar. But even that's not enough to save what ends up being a fairly routine action outing well disguised as something more substantial.

CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) probably won't live to see Christmas, having been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer that's already spread to his lungs. When he returns home to Paris from his latest assignment, he sees the diagnosis as the final chance to repair his damaged relationship with estranged teenage daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld) and ex-wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen). Instead, he's greeted with a proposition from CIA assassin, Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) to find and kill a dangerous arms trafficker known simply as the Wolf  (Richard Sammel). In exchange he'll receive an experimental drug that could possibly prolong his life, giving him extra time to reconnect with his family. But its hallucinatory side effects cause him to wonder if it's worth the trouble, while also making it extremely difficult to complete the task at hand. Hardly in top form but with nothing left to lose, Ethan's in a race against the clock, but the bigger challenge might be figuring out how to be a dad to a rebellious teen.     

To its credit, this is actually a pretty compelling premise, muddled by some of the usual cliches found in hitman movies. That's tempered slightly by Costner's work as a dying man trying to do right by his daughter. He makes it clear that Ethan is weakened and on his last legs, but doesn't overplay it either, showing shades of an agent you'd imagine as a force when he was at the top of his game. His best scenes are opposite Steinfeld, whose Zooey is not only at the age where she's mortified to even be seen with her father, but actually has a good reason since he's been selfish and absent most of her life. It's not groundbreaking material and I'm still on the fence about an actress of Steinfeld's caliber being burdened with having to flesh out a whiny teen in an action thriller, but if it has to be played by anyone, it may as well be someone talented.

How their relationship develops beats anything having to do with the actual assassination plot or whatever tasks Ethan must complete to extend his life. Their arc may be predictable, but in the hands of these two actors it manages to at least feel somewhat fresh. As entertaining as it is watching the action jump back and forth between Ethan's bumbling attempts to connect with Zooey and his assigned kills, the two never really merge in a satisfying way. The lone plus on the professional end of the narrative is Amber Heard at her most seductive as Vivi, injecting a decent dose of deadpan humor and energy into each of her appearances opposite Costner, even as Ethan injects the drug that could potentially extend his life.

The action sequences are excitingly filmed by McG, with everything eventually coming to a head in a bullet-heavy finale that concludes exactly as you'd expect. If anything, you'd figure the added drama of having a dying protagonist working against the clock would organically inject the script with an urgency, at least leaving the door open for possible surprises. Instead, it seems the filmmakers were content just letting this predictably unfold. That it was co-written and produced by Taken director Luc Besson should have been a hint to expect something a little meatier than a run-of-the-mill thriller but both installments of that franchise were considerably more suspenseful and exciting than 3 Days to Kill, despite having seemingly less to work with. Trying to turn Costner into the next Liam Neeson isn't the worst idea in the world, but he's going to need a much better project to fully pull it off.

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