by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume 3 Days to Kill
Starring Kevin Costner, Connie Nielsen, Hailee Steinfeld and Amber Heard
Directed by McG
From Relativity Media and EuropaCorp
3 Days to Kill might be 2014’s first guilty pleasure. It begins as an impossibly mundane action thriller, but somewhere along the way it blossoms into a film with an absurd amount of charm and quirky likability.
The turn happens about 15 minutes in: CIA super-spy Ethan (Kevin Costner) returns to his Paris flat to find that a rather large family of squatters, all of them impeccably polite, have remodeled his house and appropriated his space as their own. He goes to the French police, but they tell him to wait until April to file a formal complaint — “Wait for spring like birds and bees and boys and girls.” Ethan calls them “turds,” which is a confusing word for French police. “I think he’s calling us shit,” one cop says. Ethan, defeated, returns home, where his squatters try to comfort him in his new bedroom.
At this point, I’m realizing I have no idea what this movie is anymore. This is re-confirmed several minutes later when Ethan, post-shootout, argues with another CIA agent about the difference between a mustache and a goatee. The prop in the scene is an injured, bullet-riddled bad guy with a goatee, who’s kicked and rolled over again and again to prove a point about the merits of facial hair. These comedic bursts are far departures from the high-octane spy thrills of the movie’s first 10 minutes, thrills that only make cameo appearances through the remainder of 3 Days to Kill.
Later, Ethan is forced to retire from the CIA after they find out he has inoperable brain cancer. In Paris, while he tries to regain lost trust with his ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) and his teen daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), the CIA needs him for one more mission: to hunt down and kill a man known only as The Wolf, whose henchmen include The Albino and The Accountant. His government handler, a sexy vixen with a limitless budget, offers him money and an experimental cancer drug that comes in couture leather pouches. Ethan agrees, which means he spends the rest of the movie alternating between father-daughter dates to CIA-sanctioned murder.
The movie reminds me a great deal of last year’s mafia-comedy The Family, in which Robert De Niro, playing a mob boss, goes to a film club to critique Goodfellas. I wasn’t sure then, and am less sure now, whether The Family was a comedy, crime caper or something else entirely. 3 Days to Kill bops around with generally the same attitude, like when Ethan puts his Italian hostage on the phone with his daughter to explain how to make a perfect batch of spaghetti sauce. Or when he barges into another suspect’s house to talk to his teen daughters about what makes teens tick. The two movies, besides sharing their bizarre comedy timing, share writers — French filmmaker Luc Besson. Now, Besson’s movies have always had quirky streaks in them; think of the lighter moments in Léon, the fantasy-comedy of the Fifth Element, or the utter battiness of the Transporter movies. 3 Days to Kill taps into similar veins and you can sense the film smiling at you from behind the screen.
The movie has several comedic themes that return again and again, including a recurring gag about a purple bike, Ethan’s daughter-approved ringtone featuring Swedish electro-punk, and one of the squatter kids who insists Ethan give him high fives, even as the CIA spy escorts criminals to his bathroom for torture sessions. The McG-directed movie simply marches to the beat of its own drum.
Now, I did say this was a guilty pleasure so don’t go in expecting all the pieces to fit. They don’t. The movie is uneven and awkwardly paced, but it’s consistently entertaining. And Kevin Costner seems to be having a lot of fun, proving that he might not be the most bankable star, but he’s still a dependable and likable one.