The Kevin Costner comeback story felt really good for a hot minute after Zack Snyder tapped him for Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel, giving Hollywood permission to resurrect the Oscar-winning star of Waterworld and The Postman in the hopes that he could bring some of that Tin Cup and Bull Durham magic back to life. Look, studios! He’s got some blood left in him yet, let’s suck him dry!
While he was very good in Man of Steel — in fact, he provided the film with what little soul it had — Costner’s follow up films seem less like well-considered projects, and more like quick paycheck roles designed to squeeze out his last bit of relevance. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a boring mess, and Three Days to Kill is even worse. Much, much worse.
It could have been a decent, generic throwaway thriller that might have been merely forgettable, but not deplorable, had McG the sense to lop off the pointless side plots that preoccupy entirely too much of the film’s running time.
Let me briefly outline the storylines smashed together in 3 Days to Kill.
1. Kevin Costner plays Ethan Renner, a trigger-happy, crusty lifer at the CIA who is in the last days of his career when a mission to kill The Wolf — whose crime is apparently blowing up a building indiscriminately — goes awry and The Wolf escapes.
2. Ethan has brain cancer, which has spread to his lungs, leaving him only 3-5 months left to live. He is forced into retirement by the CIA.
3. Ethan, with only months to live, decides to reconnect with his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and wife (Connie Nielsen) before he dies. This side plot mostly entails Ethan teaching his 16-year-old daughter how to ride a bike, keeping her out of the club scene, taking her to the swing set she used to love as a child, and being a chaperone at her prom, which is where the film’s climax takes place. Naturally.
4. Meanwhile, Ethan is hired by a CIA operative, Vivian (Amber Heard), to track down The Wolf — who only Ethan recognizes — and in exchange, she gives him an experimental shot that will treat his brain cancer and allow him to live longer. Vivian also attempts on a few occasions to sleep with Ethan for no apparent reason.
5. There’s also a guy who works for The Wolf that Ethan interrogates through torture, except when he’s showing up to the man’s house during dinner to solicit fatherly advice, which happens several times throughout the course of the movie.
6. Elsewhere, back at Ethan’s apartment in Paris, a large African family moved in and squatted while he was away on a mission. Because of some bizarre Parisian law, he’s forced to cohabitate with them until the pregnant daughter in that family has a baby, which Ethan eventually gets to witness. With tears in his eyes!
Granted, 3 Days to Kill never had a shot at being a decent movie, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as insufferable if McG had merely excised a couple of those plot threads, particularly that of Amber Heard’s Vivian. That role could’ve been given to a character actor and disposed of in two or three scenes, but it felt beefed up in order to give Heard more screentime, and lord knows, no one needs less screentime than Amber Heard. She’s hilariously awful, like a giant, sexy thigh bruise on an already mangled leg. In fact, in the opening scene of the movie, Vivian is a straight-laced CIA agent in a pantsuit taking orders from superiors we never see again, but for some reason for the entire rest of the movie, she’s an overplayed sexpot who tramps around in short skirts and attempts to seduce Ethan. She’s like Betty Boop with a gun and stilettos, and adds nothing to the film.
Even without Vivian, however, the movie’s a mess. This killer, The Wolf, has no backstory, no motivation, and no purpose. He and his lieutenant, The Albino, blow up a building in the opening sequence (why? No idea), and we don’t really see him again until near the end of the film, but no one ever explains why The Wolf is such a top priority to the CIA in the first place. He’s played by German actor Richard Sammel, and seems only to exist in order to strengthen the worldwide box office of the film, which is shot in Paris and stars three Americans, one of which — Ethan — likes to remind us that he’s from Pittsburgh.
In fact, 3 Days to Kill doesn’t feel like a film so much as a hodgepodge of elements designed to appeal to certain worldwide demographics. Costner and Nielsen bring in the over 50s, Amber Heard brings in the frat boys, the location brings in the European market, the African family appeals to that continent, and the villains bring in the anti-German contingent. There’s even a scene where an Italian being tortured by Ethan stops long enough to provide Ethan’s daughter with an Italian recipe for spaghetti sauce, so as to ensure that another European market is name-checked.
The irony, of course, is that it doesn’t matter how many markets are represented if the movie is garbage, and Three Days to Kill is precisely what you’d imagine when the worst of Luc Besson’s writing is combined with the dreadful directing of McG and run through a demographics chart. It’s a genuinely, categorically terrible movie that’s only redemption comes in the fact that it offers yet another cautionary tale for actors in how to more carefully choose roles in their second careers.