Even if you didn’t read the credits, it would only take a few minutes to realize that 3 Days to Kill has writer/producer Luc Besson’s fingerprints all over it. Elaborate action scenes set in the streets of Paris, a macho hero with a special set of elite skills, a generic family subplot — all his hallmarks are accounted for. This time, however, Besson turns the directorial duties over to McG, the auteur of such esteemed fare as Charlie’s Angels and This Means War. If this sounds like the recipe for a slick-but-vapid action picture, oui, it is.
Kevin Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA agent who discovers he’s got a terminal illness. All he wants to do with his remaining time is to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). She lives in Paris with her mother, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and is none too happy about her father’s sudden interest in getting to know her. Christine encourages the reunion, but only under the condition that Ethan give up his job killing for the American government. Then fate steps in. Another CIA agent, Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), wants him to do one last mission. In exchange for his participation, she can give him an experimental treatment that will prolong his life. Despite his promise to Christine, Ethan picks his gun back up and begins tracking down a target known as “The Wolf,” all while trying to make amends with Zoey.
The big idea of 3 Days to Kill is to marry the routine “one last job” formula with a heartfelt family redemption dramedy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that concept, except that “routine” is the operative word here. Neither half of the movie is in any way fresh or original. The action plot is almost humorously under-baked, giving us no real indication of who the bad guy is or why it’s so imperative that he be stopped. The family subplot, meanwhile, trots out a lot of familiar clichés: Zoey refuses to refer to Ethan as “Dad,” she tries to hip him up by putting a cool ringtone on his phone, he gives her dating advice, etc. 3 Days to Kill pinballs back and forth between these two halves, never finding a way to make them feel like they’re part of the same film. The result plays as though you’re flipping between two wildly different, but equally bland, movies playing on cable at the same time.
The performances are mostly adequate. Costner displays his star magnetism, bringing some emotion to the role of a man struggling to make the most of the precious little time he has left. Had the screenplay delved into that issue with more depth, Costner could have really hit a home run. Steinfeld is appealing, too, although again, the character isn’t written to the most three-dimensional level possible. It is a credit to both actors that they milk what they can from the material. The weak point, performance wise, is Amber Heard. Apparently no one told her that she wasn’t filming Machete Kills anymore. Heard plays the sultry femme fatale at full bore. Her over-the-top approach would be fine and dandy in another movie, but it goes against everything else here.
3 Days to Kill does contain a few mildly entertaining action sequences, including a car chase and a shootout in front of a hotel, and the Parisian cinematography is beautifully atmospheric. These things cannot save an uninspired screenplay, though. The by-the-numbers nature of the film ultimately detracts from any peripheral pleasures it may have to offer.