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‘3 Days to Kill’ is a hot mess of a movie

‘3 Days to Kill’ is a hot mess of a movie

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3 Days to Kill
Written by Adi Hasak and Luc Besson
Directed by McG
USA/France, 2014

The trailers for 3 Days to Kill, the new film from producer/co-writer Luc Besson, suggests the previous major hit from the Besson film factory, 2008’s Taken. That’s not entirely wrong: 3 Days to Kill does feature a graying star with a disaffected teenage daughter, running around Paris and punching people in the throat. However, it seems that Besson wasn’t satisfied with following the lead of just one other movie. 3 Days To Kill is a mishmash of concepts, shots, and jokes from a dozen different films, and while all of it was well-executed on the day it was shot, none of it was appropriately assembled into a coherent movie.

Kevin Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA wet-work man who has serious health problems during a job and receives a dire medical prognosis. He retires to Paris, wanting to re-connect with the ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) who have made a life there. However, he still has to put up with Vivi (Amber Heard), the agent who ran his botched job and wants to catch the bad guys responsible. The movie says, clearly, that Ethan is a CIA agent, but the film’s IMDB insists that he is in the Secret Service instead; that should be the first indicator that this picture is going to be a bumpy ride.

Most of the bumps come from the fact that too many subplots are tacked onto this film, until the basic threads are at risk of being lost. Ethan’s Paris apartment from his CIA days has been occupied by squatters from Mali; Ethan decides not to kill a certain target because the target can help him deal with his daughter; Ethan’s medication causes him to hallucinate, and thus, in a theme seemingly stolen from a possible sequel to Crank, he has to keep his heart rate low at all times. In time, the plot becomes impossible to follow; a long hand-to-hand fight sequence in the middle of the film happens for literally no reason. To fit all of this together, director McG (best known for the Charlie’s Angels films, or for not seeing anything during this NSFW moment) chops his scenes to ribbons, even reducing the most emotional Costner/Steinfeld scene to a collection of replacement dialogue delivered over cutaways.

Amber Heard suffers the most from this scattershot style, because the character of Vivi is simply mystifying. She appears briefly as a dressed-down CIA company woman at the beginning of the film, but that scene exists only to drop a brick of exposition on the audience. In every other scene, she’s vampy and aggressively sexual, without any payoff (it’s not even mined for comedy). She’s got a lithe swagger going on, but Heard gets no fight scenes (she doesn’t even rate a stunt double). Worst of all, she disappears from the middle of the film for almost an hour, and it seems that even more material must have been left on the cutting room floor. Heard is actually quite good, but it’s impossible to figure out why her character and Steinfeld’s character are in the same film.

3DaysToKill_landscapeIn fact, the entire cast is quite good, even taking into account the maddening tonal shifts. Despite each scene making no sense in contrast with the one before it, the actors are 100% committed to doing that scene as well as possible. Costner has got “world-weary” down to a science, as though he were a journeyman actor who never quite made it instead of a star with multiple Oscars under his belt. He and Steinfeld have superb father/daughter chemistry, and the fact that Steinfeld has followed True Grit up with a couple of stinkers should not distract from the fact that she’s one of the best young actresses in the world. Even Nielsen, mired in the sort of “Mom’s a wet blanket” role that can stifle many an actress, makes her mark on the film.

The acting is this film is so good that it’s difficult not to feel a little sad whenever the story goes completely off the rails. It certainly seems that everyone involved deserved a better movie than what was eventually delivered. Plus, it’s possible that the filmmakers aren’t even responsible for this film’s many problems: the bizarre editing reeks of studio interference. But since McG’s name is still on the film as director, and Besson’s as producer, it must be said that both men have seen better days and delivered more coherent films. Whatever their intentions were with 3 Days to Kill, the end result is a hot mess.

— Mark Young

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