by Bob Garver
Feb. 24, 2014. About a month ago, I saw a sad, serious movie called “Philomena.” There was a big part of me that didn’t want to see it because I was in the mood for something lighter and easier. But I had heard good things about Judi Dench’s performance in the film, so I dragged myself to see it. For about the first half hour I was unhappy with the film because it wasn’t what I wanted, but eventually I found myself very interested in the Dench character and her journey. I proclaimed that the nice thing about a movie like that having a 90-minute runtime is that it has plenty of time to win me over. Now comes “3 Days to Kill,” a humor-tinged action movie that I did not want to see, has a fine first half hour, and then spends the rest of the time gradually ruining itself.
The film stars Kevin Costner as veteran CIA agent Ethan Renner. An important mission goes south when he’s sticken with a sudden illness. It turns out he has terminal cancer. He’s in no condition to continue working, so he decides to spend his final days in Paris reconnecting with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). But there’s a wrench thrown in the works courtesy of a fellow CIA agent (Amber Heard). She wants him to root out and kill the leader of the terrorists from his last mission, and in return she’ll let him have an experimental drug that may extend his life. The rest of the film sees him trying to balance his dangerous mission and his newfound determination to connect with his family.
Again, the film starts out with a lot of promise. There’s a creative kill, an exciting shootout, some funny early moments with Costner and the daughter (including a great gag with a purple bicycle), some intrigue with the Heard character and some funny banter between her and Costner over henchmen’s facial hair. So far, so good except for an unnecessary subplot about a family of squatters in Costner’s Paris apartment. He’s forced to go about his CIA business with them living there, fully aware of how dangerous he is. There’s some symbolism about how he comes to see them as the family he could have had. It makes for an occasionally touching moment but it also makes him look like an incompetent agent for involving them.
Eventually the good things about the movie run out of steam too. The action scenes become less interesting, the daughter becomes more annoying and the comedy becomes more awkward. It also becomes clear that the film has no idea what to do with the Heard character other than have her act mysterious and sexy. Even the purple bicycle wears out its welcome.
Perhaps the worst thing about the film is the way it relies on all the tired cliches of the violent professional who combines family with his lifestyle. Yes, there’s a scene where he intimidates a potential boyfriend. Yes, there’s a scene where he beats up some lecherous guys. Yes, there’s a scene where he teaches his daughter to do something violent. Surprisingly, there’s never really a scene where the daughter is put in danger by the terrorists, but that’s only after a panicked search for her in the nightclubs of Paris that’s ripped off from “Taken” (Costner is basically playing the Lian Neeson character anyway). By the way, having the daughter be put in danger by the terrorists would actually make sense since their paths cross in an unbelievably contrived and curiously unresolved way.
“3 Days to Kill” will be remembered as a bad movie, but it isn’t a uniformly bad one. It just can’t keep its good ideas coming, and for that reason I can’t recommend it, at least not very highly. Only see it if you can’t make it to something better like, say, “Philomena.”
One and a half stars out of five.