Luc Besson’s name in a movie’s credits is a virtual guarantee of wretched excess, but even by his dismal standards “3 Days to Kill” is terrible, perhaps because McG is directing, badly. It’s an incoherent jumble of action-picture clichés, misguided attempts at comedy, and sappy domestic dramedy, all mixed into one unpalatable package. Perhaps viewers addicted to the Besson brand will be enticed into seeing it, but even they should find it a dreary bore.
Kevin Costner, whose phlegmatic performance suggests he was pretty bored himself, stars as Ethan Renner, an aging CIA hit-man who’s part of a botched mission to capture an international terrorist called The Albino (Tomas Lemarquis, apparently doing an imitation of Max Schreck) that leaves him hospitalized. Tests reveal that he’s terminally ill, which induces his retirement to spend his last months in Paris reconnecting with his ex-wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and his estranged teen daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). But a hard-bitten CIA broad named Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) offers him an experimental drug that will prolong his life if he’ll help her track down The Albino and his shadowy boss The Wolf (Richard Sammel).
The remainder of the picture is divided between mediocre action scenes—fights, car chases and the like—while Ethan’s doing his spy stuff and supposedly touching material in which Ethan struggles to become a real dad to Zoey when he looks after her while Christine’s away on a business trip. Both elements are disfigured by the sort of lame, often ghoulish humor that Besson specializes in, and by lapses in narrative logic that enervate what’s already a weak script.
The action portions, for instance, drag in a typical Besson character—the buffoonish fellow in over his head—in the form of a Middle Eastern limo driver named Mitat (Marc Andreoni) whom Ethan not only tortures for information but depends on for advice about being a father. (There’s also a comic Italian, The Wolf’s accountant played by Bruno Ricci, whom Ethan abducts in a particularly poor kidnapping scene before forcing him to recite a spaghetti sauce recipe.) Yet giving the action bits some supposed suspense also depends on one of the hokiest devices imaginable—having Ethan’s medication carry a side effect that leads him to repeatedly collapse just as he’s about to catch a villain. This dumb crutch occurs so often that by the third or fourth time you’re likely to slap your forehead in frustration.
As to the father-daughter side of things, it naturally includes Ethan’s concern over Zoey’s boyfriend Hugh (Jonas Bloquet)—whose interest in soccer leads to one of the picture’s worst stretches of dialogue—but, in addition to the sitcomish stuff with Mitat, to periodic scenes involving a group of refugees from Mali, led by the genial Jules (Eriq Ebouaney), who have taken possession of Ethan’s apartment as squatters during his absence. Their presence shows Renner’s softening over time, and culminates in a sequence of Jules’ daughter giving birth that couldn’t be more cloying.
But of course it’s the scenes in which Ethan breaks down Zoey’s resentment for his long absences that take pride of place in this context, and they’re truly awful. Bathetic moments in which he teaches her to dance or to ride a bicycle are bad enough, but when they’re coupled with another in which he literally rescues her from being raped by bashing in the heads of a gang of sleazy nightclubbers the tonal gyrations are likely to cause nausea. (A fight scene set in a supermarket features a similarly wrongheaded brand of action and laughs.) And when the screenplay gathers together the various story threads in a big finale, set at Hugh’s, that’s predicated on a coincidence of gargantuan proportions, your jaw is likely to drop to the floor, especially when Christine begins to act like a complete ninny when she realizes that Ethan is still on the job.
Nobody in the cast comes off well, of course. Presumably Costner took on his role in an attempt at career resuscitation, but his recent work in the Jack Ryan reboot suggests that he’d be well advised to stick to carefully-chosen supporting parts instead of atrociously-written lead ones. Nielsen is utterly wasted, but she gets off easy compared to Heard, who’s forced to vamp about like a dominatrix in the wrong line of work. The villains are supremely uninteresting, especially since their plot is never really explained beyond the fact that it involves a dirty bomb, and neither Andreoni’s ferociously mugging goofball nor Ebouaney’s wisely beaming immigrant goes beyond the crudest caricature. Even technically the picture is supbar, though cinematographer Thierry Arbogast does manage a few nice shots of Parisian locations.
At one point in “3 Days to Kill” Kevin Costner says, “I’ve done some terrible things.” The movie proves it.