Silver Screen: Three Days to Kill **
Neeson kicked off the Geriaction movie craze with 2008’s surprise hit Taken, which originated from French producer Luc Besson’s action-movie factory. Besson hasn’t directed an action flick since hitting his late-1990s trifecta of La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional, and The Fifth Element, but just in the six years since Taken’s release he’s written or produced not only that film’s sequel, as well as a third installment of The Transporter series, but From Paris with Love, Columbiana, and Lockout. (It’s perhaps worth noting that none of these were good.)
The tireless and tiresome Besson’s fingerprints are all over Three Days to Kill, which features his trademark broad comedy, cavalier violence, implausible plotting, and tonal inconsistencies. It’s the kind of movie that expects you to take its character interactions seriously even though it features a hero with a mysterious ailment that can only be cured by a glowing-green goo contained within a comically oversized syringe. It is in fact exactly that kind of movie.
In Besson’s world, the biggest job-growth industry is hitman. In his mind, there must be only three kinds of people in this world: victims, the people who pay to have them killed, and the yeomen who carry out those assassinations with sardonic detachment. The killer here is Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), a government-sponsored assassin afflicted with an unnamed terminal illness. With only a couple of months left to live, he travels to Paris to reconnect with his ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) and his estranged daughter (Hailee Steinfeld).
Just as Ethan attempts to make amends with his family, mysterious operative Vivi (Amber Heard) offers him a bargain. In exchange for Ethan tracking down and killing a generic crime boss known by the generic nickname the Wolf, she will give him a hilariously fake-looking oversized novelty syringe that will keep him from dying, somehow or another, although it will give him dizzy spells that arise capriciously whenever the plot demands, and that can only be combated by drinking large amounts of vodka. You know, the way medicine works.
Three Days to Kill— a baffling title considering how indistinctive it is, coupled with how the movie covers more than three days— revolves around a single, stupid premise: I’m trying to be a good dad here, but every now and then I’ve got to kill some people. Ethan is constantly late for appointments and screwing up his turn to cook dinner because he has to execute strangers and calmly risk the lives of innocent people during car chases. Director McG, working from a script by Besson and cowriter Adi Hasak, repeats this punchline again and again like a four-year-old who has just learned his first joke, but not yet learned that the joke only works one time.
Three Days to Kill is actively pretty terrible for the majority of its two-hour running time, yet it remains watchable thanks mostly to its leads. Speaking of overused punchlines, Costner became a kind of sentient gag two decades ago with the one-two combination of Waterworld and The Postman. He hasn’t done himself many favors since then, with movies like Three-thousand Miles to Graceland, Mister Brooks, and Swing Vote. Questionable choices aside, the old boy’s still got some rugged charisma, and he’s fairly captivating here even though he has no reason to be. He’s matched up with Steinfeld, an especially promising young actress, and their scenes together often seem to be edited in from some other, much better movie. Their interactions ring true, although they’re frequently interrupted by the movie’s need to up the body count.
Steinfeld’s understated grace and naturalness on camera don’t do any favors for the truly awful Amber Heard, whose cartoon sexuality is an unintentional parody of a femme fatale. She wears fingerless gloves, chomps predatorily on a cigarette, and holds a gun like a Victoria’s Secret model handed a power tool. Heard is pretty, blessed with the genetics of a blonde bombshell, but she vamps so hard she’s more likely to strain one of her muscles than yours. Her acting is pretty much on par with that of any given Czechoslovakian webcam girl.
Three Days to Kill doesn’t even effectively kill two hours. It does, however, serve as a reminder that Costner makes an awfully appealing grumpy old man, and that Steinfeld will be moving on to bigger and better things.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.