Kevin Costner as Ethan Renner
Hailee Steinfeld as Zoey Renner
Amber Heard as Vivi Delay
Connie Nielsen as Christine Renner
Richard Sammel as The Wolf
Eriq Ebouaney as Jules
Tómas Lemarquis as The Albino
Big John as Louis
Rupert Wynne-James as Hugh’s Father
Philippe Reyno as Young Agent
Eric Supply as Invite
Directed by McG
“3 Days To Kill? is the most recent iteration (and little else) of Luc Besson’s favored theme focusing on the clash between the professional and private lives of criminals and assassins, which was an interesting premise when he first approached it 30 years ago but which by now has been turned into a paint by numbers sequence of predictability.
Our criminal/assassin/mercenary this time around is Ethan (Costner), a long-time CIA spook working the European beat, taking out whatever threats to the US of A which might appear on his radar. That is, until he is diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer and–rethinking his life choices, particularly the one where he picked his work over his family–Ethan jets off to Europe to try and patch things up with his ex-wife (Nielsen) and teenage daughter (Steinfeld). Or at least he would if his CIA handler (Heard) wasn’t waiting for him to finish one last job.
The idea is to bounce the violence of Ethan’s life, and his capability at said violence, off the ordinariness of the family life he wants to have and his ineptness at dealing with it, particularly as the father of a teenage daughter, leaving humor and drama in its wake. There is definitely some mileage to be had out of a government assassin stopping his interrogation of a mobster to ask him how to deal with a temperamental daughter. Besson and director McG (“This Means War?) certainly seem to think so as they repeat the sequence several times, robbing it of any humor. A joke which is funny the first time it is told is rarely funny the third. By the time said gangster is being shoved into a trunk amid promises to get him home in time to pick his daughters up from school, it’s lost whatever charm it had.
The reality is Ethan and the audience watching him are caught in a Groundhog Day loop of family sequence/action sequence which drains any possible interest out of the set-up by its constant repetition. Ethan is trapped on a Ferris wheel which keeps taking him to the same places over and over again (and usually with the Eiffel Tower in the background ? it’s like he’s tied to the thing); Ethan has a moment with his family, Ethan gets called away for a mission, Ethan returns to find out he’s messed up again by his absence. Nor are the set pieces much better as they too frequently devolve to the same subset of actions: Ethan chases bad guys, Ethan starts to catch up to them, Ethan starts to hallucinate due to the experimental drugs he’s being given to treat his cancer, bad guys get away. Yeah, we’ve heard the old saying about repeating a plot point three times in order for it to land, but you know what? You hammer that nail in hard enough the first time there’s really no reason to keep banging on it. It just gets tiresome.
It’s not an isolated example either, as much of the characterization follows that same pattern (and I do mean pattern) of introducing a character beat and repeating over and over and over again, leaving the impression of a writer with a set of index cards filled with character moments and plot elements which are simply rearranged to create the final story.
Worst off is Amber Heard, who has been hired to look pretty and act sultry and nothing else. She dives into a scene, gives Ethan his marching orders, and then zooms out again. Even when she doesn’t leave a scene she takes no action in it, willing to literally stand over her prey and order a semi-conscious Ethan to do his job rather than take any action herself. Because she’s not a character with motivations to be appeased, she’s a cypher, a messenger for plot exposition who thinks nothing and feels nothing (as far as we know) but manages to take up far too much screen time relative to what she offers. Screen time which could have been given to Nielsen, the purported love of Ethan’s life who spends most of the movie out of town so that Ethan and Zoey can have some bonding time.
“Kill” is predictable, offering no surprise and thus no ability to remain interested in its plot or its characters. If anything, the filmmakers seem to be trying their utmost to take a decent premise and do the least possible with it. This Costner example of a Nicolas Cage film gets “3 Days to Kill” out of 20 and let’s hope there’s no magic syringe.