Luc Besson has carved out an interesting cinematic niche for himself. To most people about my age, he is still known as the mastermind behind the colorful and unexpectedly fun The Fifth Element from way back in 1997. He has since moved increasingly toward writing and producing, and has managed to create his own distinct flavor of low-budget action-packed Euro-schlock, usually featuring high-profile American actors, for the American drive-in market. While the bulk of his movies aren’t too successful (his own The Family was unjustly maligned), others have managed to cause a few ripples in the pop culture firmament; I think we all know where we were when we first saw the neo-cult classic Taken.
3 Days to Kill, directed by a creature called McG and starring Kevin Costner, will not leave the same sort of cult mark as something like the headbutt Taken – it’s a little too good-natured – but it’s still possessed of Besson’s off-the-wall humor wrapped deftly around a sloppy, high-concept action plot. As a film, 3 Days to Kill flails about in many directions, often losing plot threads and characters for extended periods, only to pick them up right at the moment you had forgotten about them. It’s also bloated at 113 minutes, when a good solid 90 would have done. But as an entertainment, it’s a frantic, eager trifle, so pleased to be funny and so happy to kick ass, that you might find yourself caught up in the sloppy energy of it all. In short: 3 Days to Kill is one of the right flavors of stupid.
Kevin Costner plays an ex-CIA spook named Ethan who just had to leave the service because of encroaching cancer. As such, he goes to Paris to reunite with his estranged ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) and teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). While stumbling through the usual pseudo-comedic parents-just-don’t-understand rigmarole (that seems to be an odd constant in Besson’s screenplays), Ethan is approached by a foxy femme fatale named Vivi (Amber Heard), who enlists his help for an assassination job in exchange for a series of sketchy medicinal injections that just may cure his cancer. Yes, that is the plot. Ethan must then juggle a high-octane case involving a mysterious criminal named The Wolf and his sidekick The Albino while picking up his kid from school, preparing dinners, and trying to be a good dad, all while keeping his cancer and his killing a secret.
The funniest scenes are, of course, when Ethan’s interests seem to overlap. When he’s interrogating a stoolie, he coerces a pasta sauce recipe out of him so that his daughter may prepare it later in a bonding exercise.
And while 3 Days to Kill is sporadically funny, and features some pretty good action sequences, it’s too sloppy and occasionally too stuffed to really rise above as anything legitimately solid. Consider this: The medicine that Vivi has been injecting into Ethan makes him hallucinate if his heart rate rises too high. The only thing that can bring it back down again is, oddly enough, vodka. While this sounds like its ripe for comedic potential, it’s never fully explored. Indeed, a lot of the plot feels splashed and unconnected. What’s more, the filmmaking itself seems a little haphazard. For instance: There is a bike that plays as a plot point in the film, and each time we see it, its bell rings, whether or not someone is ringing the bell.
But solidity isn’t always necessary to have a good time. 3 Days to Kill is a bonkers little flick that might leave you distracted with its gleefulness. It’s a perfect B-feature at a drive-in. Occasionally seeing Amber Heard in a nice dress, sprinkled in between scenes of tough guys getting their feet stabbed into the floor with kitchen knives, can be exactly what the doctor ordered. In short: It’s not a good movie, but it might be interpreted as a fun one.