Is This the Spy Thriller it Promises to Be in the Trailer, or an Episode of McG’s The O.C.?

Director: MCG/2014

What if Frank Farmer, the former secret service agent turned bodyguard in the 1992 film The Bodyguard, became a “lifer” for the CIA?  What if he eventually got married, had a kid, but spent years away from them because he was still married to the job? What if his new job wasn’t secret service or being a professional bodyguard, but was being a contract killer for the CIA?  The answers to these questions are found in the new film 3 Days to Kill.

22 years after The Bodyguard, Kevin Costner is back in action as a government agent. Only this time, he is Ethan Renner.  He is one of the best the CIA has, but has not climbed the career ladder due to his quiet demeanor, and scruffy “American Cowboy” look.  Despite these drawbacks, he is still effective at taking out the targets he is assigned.  He has also paid a steep price in his personal life, being estranged from his wife Christine (Connie Nielson) and daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).  As he is pursuing one of his targets early on, we learn that he is sick.  He is told that he has a type of brain cancer that has shifted to his lungs.  He is thanked by the doctor for serving the CIA well, but is given very little time to live.

Enter Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), another CIA operative who is interested in Renner helping her to hunt a terrorist known as “The Wolf”. She believes Renner to be the only man who has actually seen him.  Renner is only interested in winning back his daughter and wife with the little time he has left.  When she offers him an experimental drug the CIA has that could possibly treat his condition in exchange for his help in catching “The Wolf”, the movie plot is set and gets into gear.

3 Days to Kill is based on a story by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional, Taken) who also shares credit for the screenplay.  Though directed by McG, this story has the feel of other Besson projects.  There is the hit man who learns to soften his heart and embrace life more, ala Leon: The Professional.  There is the same hit man/CIA Agent who has a special set of skills who also is trying to reconnect with a daughter and wife as we see in Taken.  Finally there is the offer of gaining back his life if he does one job for the agency as we see in the film Point of No Return.

Much of this plot sounds pretty recycled from Besson’s past. Couple that with the fact that a stylized director such as McG is at the helm, having already ruined the Terminator series with the awful Terminator: Salvation, and the insanely over-the-top Charlie’s Angels, and this project should have easily been dead upon arrival.  However, the film provides a modicum of entertainment value in spite of these obstacles.

Kevin Costner may have been the only actor who could have played this character.  He is able to give a performance that was believable in terms of both his character’s ability and demeanor. Yet, he is able to still deliver a performance laced with nuanced humor and tenderness. It is the moments with his daughter where 3 Days to Kill truly channels Leon: The Professional and shows the main character’s steely persona slowly melting away.  This creates enough good will, as does some humorous interactions with interrogation targets and a family of squatters in Renner’s Paris home, to allow you to forgive the film’s overall weak plot.

Amber Heard’s CIA character, Vivi, is fully in the asinine styling of McG as he displayed in Charlie’s Angels (as well as the sequel), and to a lesser extent in the television series Chuck, which McG produced.  She is not a serious character, is way too over-the-top like a Roger Moore era James Bond henchman, and seems to exist simply to be some sort of eye-candy, antagonist tease to Costner’s no non-sense Renner.

The plot perfectly and neatly connects in the third act and resolves itself much like the television shows McG is better suited for.  Unfortunately, this relieves the film of any good will that had been built up with the father-daughter reconnection storyline, as well as the impending death arc that was propelling the plot forward.

The villains are two dimensional and generic, with even their names being more suited for something on McG’s The O.C., namely “The Albino” and “The Wolf”.  The villain’s connections to Renner are obviously forced into the script during the third act. The relationship the daughter has with a boy from her school begins to look interesting as certain facts are made known to the audience during the climax of the movie, but are never really resolved.  I guess they are saving that for a sequel, which they leave the door wide open for at the end of the film.

In a bleak February with slim pickings to choose from, 3 Days to Kill may well entertain those who see it, but it will not change the perception of its director who would rather put style over substance onto the screen time and time again.  Luc Besson retreads on too much familiar ground and seriously needs to get back to the promise he demonstrated in the 1990’s.  Fortunately for both Luc Besson, and especially McG, Kevin Costner knows how to carry a film further than it has any right to go. For Mr. Costner, he has another film coming out in April that has a much better chance of connecting with the audience.