Film Review: 3 Days to Kill

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Plot: An aging CIA Operative Ethan Renner(Kevin Costner) is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, and retires from the service to spend his last few months with his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) who he’s mainly neglected her whole life. But when the government holds the key to an experimental drug that may save him, he is pulled back into service to track down a terrorist he once let slip through his fingers.

Wow, what a mess. 3 Days to Kill is a disjointed, skittish, genre-confused piece of film. I can’t say I’m surprised by this result when your movie is directed by McG, with a screenplay co-written by Luc Besson (other writer is Adi Hasak). You’re just asking for a “What the hell am I watching?” type reaction with those guys at the helm. Despite all its flaws and inconsistencies though, there is a lot of good here. With a different writing/directing team, this could have been something really great. But we’ll get to those details later on, because the first half hour of this film is just downright painful.

First of all, the movie starts with what feels like the middle of a conversation. Nah, forget establishing character, or mood, or anything like that. Let’s just jump right into a generic mission. We meet our protagonist, Ethan Renner, a grizzled old secret agent bad ass who is tasked with capturing an evil generic terrorist named “The Wolf.” But to get to the Wolf, they have to defeat the generic mini-boss first, “The Albino” (Tomas Lemarquis). Yes, that’s really his name. I’m not kidding. Let’s just get this out of the way first – the villains suck.

This first action sequence sets up perfectly what will go wrong with the rest of the film. It rotates from action set piece to family drama every three seconds. After Renner puts a random government tracker finder thing on The Albino’s briefcase, he asks the team if he can use the pay phone to call his daughter on her birthday. Sure! Why not? Big government operation, catching terrorists…yeah, take a few minutes to call your daughter. No probs. Okay, maybe I can buy that a little bit, but at the point where he’s still leaving a voicemail just as things are clearly going wrong…that I can’t buy. Seriously, there’s gunfire and cars going berserk, and this guy is just like, “Gee, I wonder if I should do something?” I get they need to establish that the relationship between him and his daughter is strained, but come on! There’s gunfire! Maybe to some that’s a nitpick, but I’m sorry…that’s a terrible way to start your movie. This is the logic we’re going with? Okay…

The first act in general is just unpleasant to watch. There’s just something about the way it was edited and shot that made me, for lack of a better word, nauseous. There are so many unnecessary storylines that add absolutely nothing. When Renner returns home to his crappy apartment in Paris, there’s a family living there, but he doesn’t kick them out because one of the daughters is pregnant. They spend so much time on this subplot, but it contributes absolutely nothing to the story. It’s just kind of obnoxious.

Now for all the complaining and vitriol I’ve thrown at this film, there is a silver lining – the relationship between Renner and his daughter Zoey is actually compelling. Despite the poor direction and script, Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld do give great performances. You buy Costner as a bad ass, and I like that he’s not the typical suave secret agent. He’s actually kind of messy and gritty. The real stand out though was Hailee Steinfeld, who’s one of the best up and coming young actresses right now. If you gave this material to 99.9% of the actresses in Steinfeld’s age range, this film would have been unbearable. I give Steinfeld a lot of credit for elevating the material.

This is what I mean by the film having great potential. I honestly wish this would have just been about a dying retired government agent who tries to reconnect with his daughter, with no lame half-assed terrorist action plot. Every time the film would go back to this, I just didn’t care. Not only that, but just when you think there might be a harsh torture/interrogation scene, uh-oh, Renner gets a call from Zoey about cooking pasta for dinner! Oh, but Zoey’s in luck! It just so happens Renner is torturing an Italian business man who really knows his pasta. Yup…instead of an interrogation scene to move the plot along, we get a delightful conversation between Zoey and the generic tied up Italian business guy. Ugh.

What’s even worse is the predictability of the action scenes. The experimental drug Renner is taking causes hallucinations (shaky cam), and every time he needs to be on his A-Game, they play this up. It’s overused to the point where I wanted to bash my head into the seat in front of me, but somebody was sitting there.

Aside from Costner and Steinfeld, there are no other performances to write home about. Amber Heard plays Vivi Delay, a sexed-up government operative who gets Renner out of retirement, and acts like a fifth rate Catwoman. I don’t blame Heard, but this character is just annoying, annoying, annoying. I don’t know who thought this would be a good idea. Much like every scene in this film, every time they need to progress the story, it takes a five minute diversion into bad comedy. Renner has just killed all these bad guys, and Vivi accuses him of leaving the wrong one alive, all because they had a disagreement over what looks like a goatee and a beard. Again, I’m not kidding. This conversation actually took place.

Connie Nielsen plays Christine, Renner’s ex-wife, and her character/performance is no picnic either. For no reason at all, Nielsen will randomly go into these happy-go-lucky type expressions only two seconds after being mad at Renner. Huh? What? Again, I don’t blame the actress. As I mentioned before, the villains were nothing. I’m not even sure how the main villain’s story got resolved in the end. It was pretty confusing. Whatever, I didn’t really care.

It sounds like I hate this movie, but at the end of the day, it’s actually passable. Despite a contrived plot twist, the second half does get a lot better, and the last five minutes are pretty good. Even Amber Heard redeems her performance a little bit. I remained invested in Renner’s story with his daughter, so I have to give the film credit for that. It’s just hard to recommend this movie because of the herky-jerky pace and tone. The script is bad, but this is mostly just poor directing. If I see another McG film, it will be too soon.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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