Monday, February 24, 2014

3 DAYS TO KILL Is a Decent Way To Kill Two Hours On a Sunday Afternoon

3 DAYS TO KILL Review:

- Even at their worst, Luc Besson-produced films tend to have a pulpy, B-movie sensibility that I find entertaining. Unfortunately, 3 DAYS TO KILL - directed by McG and co-written by Besson - is indeed one of the lesser films that the legendary director has had his name attached to. Don't get me wrong, it's got its moments, and there's some real fun to be had here. But the film seems to be an uneasy melding of Besson's pulp-action, darkly satirical sensibilities with McG's lighter, fluffier tendencies. The movie wants to be both badass and sappy - a weird mix of McG's TV show Chuck and Besson's signature spy thrillers like Leon: The Professional. The result is a film that is sort of all-over-the-place, and that begins to come apart at the seams the longer it goes.

What must be said, however, is that - hell yeah, it's good to see Kevin Costner back as a badass. It's been far too long, and guys like Costner only get more entertaining the older and more grizzled they become. And Costner excels here as a former trained CIA killer named Ethan Renner. This isn't him trying to play the superhero - no, this is a guy whose back and knees ache, who's got a lot of mileage, and who is most definitely too old for this $#!%. Costner really helps to carry the movie, and he ably juggles all of its tonal extremes. He's pretty much the only person in the film who pulls off both the badassery and the sentimentality with aplomb.

Now, Costner is good, but the plot he's thrown into does him no favors. Basically, just after retiring as a spy, Costner finds out that he has a deadly disease that leaves him with less than a year to live. Hoping to make the best of the time he has left, he travels to Paris to try to reconcile with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). But when he arrives, a mysterious, femme-fatale CIA handler named Vivi (Amber Heard) recruits him for one last mission. It seems that a terrorist whom Ethan had put away years back is now on the loose, and Ethan is once again needed to track him down. In exchange for his services, Vivi promises Ethan an experimental cure for his disease.

What ensues is a very Chuck-like comedy of errors, in which Ethan attempts to balance his new-found commitment to his family with his renewed obligation to the CIA. The problem is that the movie doesn't focus in enough on the main characters or plot to really make us care, all the while distracting with numerous subplots that are go-nowhere.

For example, Amber Heard's character, Vivi, feels like a lot of wasted potential. I'm an unabashed Amber Heard fan, and I think she excels at doing campy, pulpy, winking-at-the-audience parts (see: Drive Angry). However, the movie never really settles on what the deal is with Vivi - we get vague hints that she's an exhibitionist and a danger-addict. And there's a half-baked attempt at creating an adversarial relationship with Costner, who inexplicably seems not only strangely immune to her feminine wiles, but also actively turned off by them. Vivi is a fun character, and Heard vamps and camps it up with gusto - but the character is ultimately too random - and too tonally off from most of the rest of the film - to make an impact.

As another example, there's a pretty pointless subplot in which Costner goes back to the old apartment he kept in Paris, only to find it occupied by a large, semi-impoverished family. Initially, Costner aims to kick out the squatters, but soon warms up to them. It's a very needless plot thread that just makes the movie feel padded. Meanwhile, the film's villains are sorely lacking in personality and clear motivation, and are generic as can be. Same goes for Ethan's wife - Nielsen's character is just sort of there, and we don't quite see any evidence of why Ethan is so eager to win her back. Most of the time, she seems sort of abrasive and cold towards him, until suddenly a switch is flipped and she inexplicably comes around.

One more bit of oddness: the entire story thread involving the magic serum that Vivi gives to Ethan - it's incredibly random in how it plays out, and makes no real sense. The whole conceit is that the drug makes Ethan woozy and weak, unable to see straight or stand straight. So why is Vivi giving it to him just before missions? And why, exactly, is Ethan needed for these missions - at the least, couldn't they get him some back up? Point being: if the CIA is so intent on catching the badguys here, why send in a guy, solo, who's prone to blacking out on the job? I was waiting for some twist about Ethan being manipulated by the CIA, but it never came.

Handled much better, however, is the Costner-Steinfeld, father-daughter relationship. Steinfeld is a great young actress, and she, like Costner, makes scenes that could have been eye-rollingly sappy work way better than they have a right to.

What also works, for the most part, is the action. McG has always had a knack for staging fun, energetic action scenes - and he does it again here.There is some classic Besson-style mayhem - gunfights, car-chases, and good ol' fashioned brawls. Nothing quite as good as the best scenes in, say, Taken, but some very solid stuff nonetheless. And Costner dishes out the right hooks with gravitas aplenty. He also gets a chance to hit us with some dryly funny "get off my lawn" humor, which sometimes misses the mark, but occasionally made me chuckle. In particular, a speech he gives to his daughter's soccer-playing boyfriend about the merits of real American football is pretty amusing. What's more, even when the movie is sort of flailing plot and tone-wise, it still looks great and features all sorts of well-shot Paris locales.

I can sometimes chalk up the weirdness in these Besson-produced films to them simply having a slightly foreign-feeling, Eurocentric sensibility. And often, I'm willing to forgive or even embrace the jarring eccentricities because they are outweighed by a tangible, sleek sense of subversiveness - and a visceral badassery - that makes these movies feel distinct and unique from their American counterparts. However, the eccentricities of 3 DAYS TO KILL include major logic gaps, underdeveloped characters, and tonal oddities that can't simply be covered up by a game lead in Costner and some bursts of cool action. And yet, there is fun to be had here, and fans of Euro-action may still want to give this one a look. Just don't expect the next Taken.

My Grade: B-

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