‘3 Days to Kill’ movie review: Kevin Costner in a Luc Besson-produced thriller

A groan-inducing family (melo)drama masquerading as a globetrotting action film, 3 Days to Kill has little to recommend it outside of a genuinely appealing performance from Kevin Costner in movie-star comeback mode. While some intermittent gunplay threatens to make this thing interesting, the cliché-ridden father-daughter stuff that makes up the bulk of it is just the pits

And that’s despite warm performances from both Costner, as CIA agent Ethan Renner, and Hailee Steinfeld (Oscar-nominated for her role in True Grit) as his daughter Zooey. Both stars are empathetic, and a feature devoted to their strained relationship probably could have worked. But not when it’s shoe-horned into a faux-actioner scripted by Luc Besson and directed by McG (Charlie’s Angels).

Producer and co-writer Besson, by the way, has been churning these things out like clockwork since the Transporter and Taken films turned a nifty profit (also see: From Paris with Love, Colombiana, and The Family). The concept is simple – Hollywood star, international intrigue – but (first Taken excluded) these films rarely end up as more than a light diversion. Enter 3 Days to Kill

A debris-filled pre-credits sequence in Belgrade promises more action than the rest of the film delivers, as Ethan and his team attempt to capture an arms trafficker selling a dirty bomb. But things go wrong when Ethan slips away to make a quick phone call to his daughter on her birthday (heavy-handed foreshadowing ahoy!)

And, as that nagging cough surely implied – yes, Ethan is dying of terminal brain cancer. The CIA thanks him for his service and sends him packing to “get his affairs in order” – as they do in these films – so Ethan heads to Paris to re-connect with the daughter and ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) who he abandoned years ago. 

But before wifey can get Ethan to absolutely, positively guarantee that yes, he is out of all that CIA spy business – well, here’s special agent Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) with a miracle drug that can cure his brain cancer. 

Now, the CIA ain’t just giving away miracle drugs to agents that have served them loyally for decades for nothing. No, Ethan will have to complete One Last Assignment if he wants to live: finish the Belgrade job and track down the mysterious arms trafficker known as The Wolf.

Yawn, you might say. And you’re not wrong. But wait: because of the brain cancer – and the unlicensed drug he takes to cure it – Ethan suffers hallucinogenic fits whenever his heart rate is raised, which is whenever he’s close to taking out the baddie. Now there’s something different! Slightly, at least; I was reminded of the 1968 western A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die, in which the hero suffered uncontrollable epileptic fits at the least opportune moments. 

But forget all that CIA spy business: Ethan has to teach his daughter how to dance! And ride a bike! And save her from lecherous French boys! Now you can yawn: the family junk completely engulfs 3 Days to Kill, bloating it to an intolerable 117-minute running time. After 90 minutes, I really wanted out. 

Director McG previously made the two Charlie’s Angels films, Terminator Salvation, and This Means War; while 3 Days to Kill is better than that last bomb, it’s equally tone deaf, wavering uneasily between comedy and violent action, and half an hour too long. While Besson’s brand of international actioners may be disposable entertainment, they should be fun; this one ends up wearing out its welcome. 

Redeeming factor: a well-chosen soundtrack compilation that includes some classic soul like Ann Peebles’ Trouble Heartaches & Sadness (which plays out over the opening credits) mixed with contemporary hits like The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition and Icona Pop’s I Love It.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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