If you’ve any chance of enjoying 3 Days to Kill, “just go with it” will need to be the mantra you murmur to yourself throughout. The film, directed by McG, tries to have its campy fun and force you to eat an emotional pound cake too.
It opens abruptly. I’d barely settled into my seat when two CIA big-shots were delivering rapid-fire instructions to young agent Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), tasking her with tracking down a criminal mastermind called the Wolf (Richard Sammel) with the help of the hardnosed (and softhearted) Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner). After collapsing in Belgrade while in pursuit of the Wolf’s right-hand man, the Albino (Tómas Lemarquis), Renner learns that he has terminal cancer and only three months to live.
He quits the agency and returns to his Paris home to reconnect with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), whom he hasn’t seen in five years. Things get complicated when Vivi shows up offering him an experimental drug that can save his life if he takes one last shot at getting the Wolf. Attempted hilarity ensues.
Trailers had led me to expect a dour, snarling hero in the vein of the roles of Liam Neeson’s late career renaissance. Indeed, the screenplay is co-written by French filmmaker Luc Besson, who also penned the script for Taken, the 2008 movie that turned Neeson into an action star. But instead 3 Days to Kill has more of the spirit of Grosse Pointe Blank, attempting to mine comedy from circumstances in which a professional killer must balance the demands of his work and personal lives.
The best scene, in which Renner forces a man he’s in the midst of harshly interrogating to give his mother’s pasta sauce recipe to Zoey over the phone, executes this beautifully. Unfortunately too much of the rest of the movie’s comic banter is labored, and chemistry is missing between Costner and pretty much all of his costars. This is particularly true with Heard, whose role requires her to do a lot of vamping around atmospherically lit warehouses, sex clubs, and aquariums in low-cut outfits and bad wigs for no discernible reason.
It’s OK for a movie to have fun by playing things over the top, but then don’t be surprised when I’m also laughing out loud to hear a daughter melodramatically declare that she never learned to ride a bike because she “never had a father around to teach her.” It’s not my empathy that’s broken.