Film review: 3 Days to Kill may be three too many

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Kevin Costner’s days are numbered in 3 Days to Kill, Luc Besson’s latest older-white-guy-as-killing-machine screenplay. Kevin Costner’s days are numbered in 3 Days to Kill, Luc Besson’s latest older-white-guy-as-killing-machine screenplay.

By now we’re all familiar with Luc Besson’s oeuvre, right? You may remember him as the writer responsible for resurrecting Liam Neeson’s career with Taken, a movie in which young women can do nothing for themselves while older men beat the shit out of other men who would do the women harm.

With Taken, Besson sort of launched the older-white-guy-as-killing-machine genre that had previously been ruled by younger guys in the 1980s (yes, Stallone and Schwarz-
enegger were young once). Neeson has made it his bread and butter. Following Taken, Neeson made Taken 2, The Grey, Unknown, and coming soon, Non-Stop.

Besson has moved on, sort of. Whereas once all the women in his movies were helpless, they now kick ass (The Family, which is a terrible movie) or avoid it altogether (3 Days to Kill), unless they’re Amber Heard, in which case it’s unclear what she does (again, 3 Days to Kill).

This time around the old white guy is Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), a secret agent lifer who kills with speed but usually leaves a mess. Vivi Delay (Heard) is running an operation to kill The Wolf (Richard Sammel) and The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis)—it should be noted that these names are said throughout the movie with straight faces. Ethan blows killing The Albino in the opening minutes, but that’s because he has undiagnosed brain cancer and passes out during a foot chase. He does, however, shoot The Albino in the ankle and leave him with a limp.

Fast forward: Ethan is diagnosed, told he’ll die in three months, and he subsequently retires and moves to Paris to spend his remaining time with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld). Neither of them is thrilled, but Christine agrees to let him back into their lives because of his illness. She makes Ethan promise he won’t tell Zooey he’s dying and that he’ll never go back to the life. He agrees to both.

If only life were so simple! Vivi has other plans, and like Michael Corleone, Ethan finds himself pulled back in. Soon he’s tracking The Albino and The Wolf while dispatching lots of bad guys and beating French dudes who make fun of him for wearing what, to them, look like cowboy clothes.

3 Days to Kill wouldn’t be so awkward if it knew what to do with itself. Like lots of Besson-written movies, it treads uneasily between super violence, drama, and clumsy comedy. It also, like lots of Besson movies, treats the young women as objects to be ogled or saved, except for Heard’s Vivi, whose character makes no sense. More than once she sends Ethan to kill some guys but then kills them herself. So what’s his purpose? Or hers?

In addition to father-daughter storylines, there’s also a marriage storyline, a how-do-we-raise-kids storyline, an African family squatting in Ethan’s apartment, and Ethan’s hallucinations resulting from an experimental drug regimen. And, last but not least, The Albino drops an elevator on a woman’s head in the first five minutes of a PG-13 comedy.

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