No matter how hard I try, I can’t get past the feeling that “3 Days to Kill,” the new Kevin Costner-starring spy joint from “Charlie’s Angels” director McG, must be a joke. You know it is supposed to be an action comedy, but I don’t mean that kind of joke, I’m talking about a mean-spirited trick. No movie can be this bizarre, disjointed, and terrible without it being on purpose, right? Every single choice in this movie leaves you scratching your head, wondering what the hell everyone involved was thinking. It borders on spoof, but isn’t that clever. I didn’t have particularly lofty expectations, but I love me some Costner and was hoping for a fun little actioner. “3 Days to Kill,” however, is baffling on every level. Think of it as a poorly executed attempt to remake “True Lies.”
Ethan Renner (Costner) is a lifelong CIA agent. It’s cost him everything, wife, daughter, health, you name it. During a mission to stop a dirty bomb and apprehend a mysterious weapons broker named the Wolf (Richard Sammel), and his henchman, the Albino (Tomas Lemarquis)—helpful hint, if you’re trying not to be noticed, don’t make yourself the most noticeable human being in any room you enter—Ethan’s phone goes off, reminding him that it’s his estranged daughter Zoey’s (Hailee Steinfeld) birthday. He talks to her once a year, so he can’t possibly wait another half hour. The phone going off at inopportune moments is a gag that “3 Days” will jackhammer into the ground. So what does he do, he pauses mid-op to call her on a pay phone, because he’s not doing anything important. He probably couldn’t have stopped that other agent from getting her head crushed by an elevator anyway.
Following this opening, the plot piles one complication on top of another until the picture is so messy and convoluted that it would take graphs and charts and hours to explain it all. I may lead an in depth online seminar dissecting the plot of this turd. It boils down to this: Ethan is sick—he has brain cancer that has moved to his lungs—and only has a few months left to live. Tired of killing, he returns to Paris, where he hasn’t been in five years, in order to reconnect with Zoey and his wife Christine (Connie Nielsen). But you’ve seen this movie enough times to know he can’t just quit. Enter Vivi (Amber Heard), a vampy CIA spook who has an experimental cure that could give Ethan more time, if he kills the Wolf and Albino for her. Every time you think you’re out…
Around this core, McG and screenwriters Luc Besson and Adi Hassack cram in a series of absurd running gags. When Ethan returns to Paris, he finds that an immigrant family has been squatting his flat. Since in France you apparently have no legal recourse to kick people out of your own home, he’s just like whatever, and bonds with the strangers. Seriously, he’s there for the birth of one of their grandchildren, in his living room, and they name the baby after him. What? This adds nothing to the plot, story, themes, or characters. It’s weird comic relief, filler, and more than anything, completely inexplicable.
And let’s talk about the line of people Ethan kidnaps, tortures, and then turns to for advice about his daughter. Ethan hooks one guy up to a car battery, then repeatedly knocks on his door looking for help connecting with Zoey. He forces another source, at gunpoint, to give Zoey his mother’s secret recipe for spaghetti sauce. These moments are supposed to be played for laughs, but they are so insanely awkward that they leave you with a blank expression on your face and a grimy feeling in your heart. The movie is funniest when it’s supposed to be the most serious, and only makes you groan when it aims at comedy.
No only do McG and company fail to make you laugh, but “3 Days to Kill” also fails on both the thriller and action fronts. When there are action scenes, they’re tepid and weak. A moderate scale car chase and some hacked up fight scenes are the best you get, though it is fun to watch Costner beat the hell out of a bunch of ravers trying to rape Zoey in a nightclub bathroom. Most of the middle of the film is concerned with Ethan’s clumsy attempts to bond with his vapid, bratty daughter in the limited time he has left. This is supposed to be poignant and cute and charming, but it’s tedious. Not only is there a montage where he teaches her to ride a bike—because no child without a father has ever learned that skill in any other way—there’s also one where he teaches her to dance. At a few minutes shy of two full hours, this drags your limp noodle of a brain over sharp, jagged rocks over and over again.
All of this is damn near enough to make you weep and cry out for mercy, and I haven’t even touched on the hallucinations. Yes, one of the side effects of Vivi’s experimental treatment is that if Ethan’s heart rate rises too far, he experiences crippling hallucinations, like walls melting hallucinations. Though he does have an episode before he ever takes a dose, so you have to wonder if maybe it has something to do with the brain tumor, not the meds. It doesn’t actually matter. “3 Days” is the opposite of “Crank” in this way, Ethan has to stay calm, not always an easy thing to do when you’re chasing wanted international fugitives.
“3 Days to Kill” is strange enough that it should be fun. Reading back over what I’ve written, parts actually sound kind of great. But it’s not, it’s long and idiotic and you have to wonder how this got made, let alone into theaters, and you’ll kick yourself for not being turned away by the James Bond-reject title. This is a movie that misses every single mark it tries to hit, and it just abysmal.