'3 Days to Kill': Thriller is sloppy but shot through with laughs

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceFebruary 20, 2014 

Amber Heard plays handler to Kevin Costner's aging CIA agent in 3 Days to Kill. Costner's agent has terminal cancer and one last mission.

JULIAN TORRES

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    '3 Days to Kill'

    ★★★☆☆

    PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language. Relativity. 1:53. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.

Kevin Costner and the director called McG are plunged into the madcap mayhem of Monsieur Luc Besson in 3 Days to Kill, a serio-comic thriller about mortality, murder for hire and fatherhood.

This being a script and production by Besson, it's also about car chases and epic shootouts, torture played for sadistic laughs, Paris scenes and Peugeot product placement.

Besson, who morphed into a producer after The Professional and before The Transporter, gives Costner the full Liam-Neeson-in-Taken treatment, cashing in on a career of cool in a movie that moves almost fast enough to keep us from noticing how scruffy, discomfiting and absurdly over the top the whole thing is.

Costner is Ethan, a veteran CIA agent diagnosed with cancer. His new control agent, a vamp named ViVi and played to the stiletto-heeled hilt by Amber Heard, wants him for one last mission: taking out a nuclear arms dealer and his associates in Paris.

The carrot? She has an experimental drug that might give Ethan longer to live. And that could mean more time with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and the daughter he barely knows, played by True Grit teen Hailee Steinfeld. They live in Paris. The girl doesn't know what Dad does for a living, or that he's dying. She's a teenager. She probably wouldn't care. "You might want to take something for that cough. It's really annoying."

McG (Charlie's Angels, We Are Marshall) stamps his signature on Besson's Euro-action vision with running gags. "Dad" tries to get his rebellious teen to ride a cool purple bike he brought her. Her ring tone on his phone is the IconaPop song I Love It (I Don't Care), which always goes off just as he's about the rip a guy's armpit hair off with duct tape. Everybody is always trying to high-five Ethan, and the French, Germans and others he runs into keep calling him "Cowboy."

Ethan is clueless about how to deal with a teenager, so he's always stopping the torture to ask one underworld guy (Marc Andreoni, funny) how to cope, what to do, how "to balance work and family."

Heard — all lipstick and lingerie, long eyelashes and leather — has little to do here, something of a waste. Steinfeld's Zoey is a bit of a drama queen, but not a caricature of one. She is one transgression after another, which Ethan seems loath to punish and unable to rein in.

Besson co-wrote the script, and he works in shots at absentee parents, lazy French cops and a legal system that allows cute African squatters more rights to Ethan's apartment than he has. But that turns out to be a warm and fuzzy cul de sac, one of many in this movie, which veers from shocking shoot-outs to rank sentiment.

Ethan's illness is forgotten for long stretches, but Costner, a hacking, weathered study in wrinkles and violence, never lets on that the whole affair is more of a lark than Taken ever was. A canny touch is the old-fashioned split-screen opening credits, scored to the R&B tune Old Man Trouble. It fits.

A tone-deaf touch: having father teach daughter to dance to I Want to Make It With You. Seriously?

Daft and sloppy as it is, 3 Days to Kill rarely fails to entertain. From the bike-riding lessons on Montmartre to dopey interrogation of the Italian "accountant," interrupted for a marinara sauce recipe, it's all part and parcel of Besson's madness, a From Paris, With Love filtered through McG and slapping a new stamp of cool on aging Oscar winner Costner.

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