In the world of French screenwriter Luc Besson, Paris is a fantasy city populated by hit men, sexy, secret undercover agents that can be seen from miles away, and really nasty bad guys with an endless supply of thug-like bodyguards whose real reason for being is not so much to protect their employer but to get shot. In fact, in the world of Luc Besson, the resolution to everything is to either kill it or torture it first and then kill it.
Despite the action-packed time limit associated with the title, the meaning of 3 Days to Kill isn’t what you think. When ailing CIA agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is required to look after his teenager daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) while his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) goes away for a few days on a business trip, Renner’s daughter tells him that they have three days to kill before mom returns.
During those three days, like any other father earning a living, Renner will have to balance things between work assignments and looking after the family. In Renner’s case, the work is killing people. It’s tough being a responsible father while trying to make a few bucks.
The plot is straight forward. Impossibly attractive CIA agent Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) is in France to recruit Renner back into the game. She wants Renner to find a bad guy called simply The Wolf and do what Renner does best. “I need you to find him,” she tells Renner, “And I need you to kill him.” It’s that simple. Why the CIA wants the Wolf dead isn’t really important. All we need to know is that whoever the Wolf is, he’s the target and Renner needs to find him, kill him, then move on.
The only problem for Renner, besides trying to entertain a perpetually moody daughter, is that the hit man is not well. “You have a type of brain cancer,” the agency doctor tells him, “And it’s spreading to your lungs.” After the doctor tells Renner he won’t make it to Christmas, he adds, “The CIA thanks you for your service.”
But there’s more. Drop-dead-gorgeous though morally repellent Vivi, now acting undercover in a platinum wig and wearing ruby red lipstick, curvaceous, tight fitting latex and spiky high-heels – presumably so that she blends in and goes unnoticed with the rest of the crowd – has some kind of top secret, super-duper wonder drug that can prolong Renner’s life as long as he takes the Wolf hunting job. We never learn the name of the drug, it’s one of those conveniently mysterious Luc Besson inventions that doesn’t contain the FDA seal of approval, but the important thing is it works and it has to be administered by a really huge syringe. But there’s a drawback; the drug that no one’s ever heard of occasionally causes heart palpitations and hallucinations – usually at the most inconvenient of moments – that can only be calmed by shots of vodka. “I need a significant raise,” Renner tells Vivi.
What follows is a series of well choreographed, richly shot, improbably violent actions sequences with seemingly endless scenes of good and bad people attaching silencers on guns, and bad guys or innocent by-standers being shot, flung through glass windows, tortured and eventually killed, with most of it done in full view of Paris with nary a policeman in sight, not to mention that not one of the incidents of explosive carnage ever make it on the evening news. You’d think that if you were walking along the streets of Paris and you just happened to witness several car crashes, machine gun action, flying dead bodies and buildings exploding all around you you’d mention it in passing to someone.
And it’s all done with a kind of tongue-in-cheek, blasé manner that passes for black humor. When a discussion between Renner and his daughter in his car keeps being interrupted by the sound of muffled knocks from the bloodied kidnapped body in the trunk, Renner gets out of the car, opens the lid, beats the kidnapped victim with his fist to silence him and complains, “I’m trying to have a conversation with my daughter.” Amazingly the daughter, who is unaware of her father’s work, appears to have no curiosity about the man hidden away in the trunk.
As directed by McG, a filmmaker who is no longer a teenager making rock music videos and by now should really use his real name of Joseph Nichol, the film is actually a mess and makes no sense. As expected, Costner underplays every moment, but at least, as he’s grown older, the casual approach to practically everything somehow works more effectively now that he’s graying.
True to the movie’s hype, the film is heart-pounding, but just like Costner’s Renner when that top secret, CIA wonder drug causes those inconvenient heart palpitations, at the conclusion of 3 Days to Kill we could probably all use a shot of vodka.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)