[Screen It]


(2014) (Kevin Costner, Amber Heard) (PG-13)

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Action: A dying CIA agent is assigned to track down and kill an international arms dealer and terrorist, all while reconnecting with his estranged daughter and ex-wife.
Ethan Renner (KEVIN COSTNER) is a veteran CIA agent who finds out he is dying from cancer. He is discharged from the Agency and opts to go to Paris in an effort to reconnect with his ex-wife, Christine (CONNIE NIELSEN) and teenage daughter, Zoey (HAILEE STEINFELD), neither of whom he has seen in five years.

He swears to Christine that he's done with the spy/assassin life and tells her of his terminal illness. But Ethan is pulled back into the life by an enigmatic agent named Vivi (AMBER HEARD). In exchange for killing two vicious arms dealers named The Wolf (RICHARD SAMMEL) and The Albino (TOMAS LEMARQUIS), she will supply him with an experimental government drug that will prolong his life.

Ethan agrees, and tries to balance hunting down The Wolf and The Albino with learning to be a father to a moody teenager. This includes meeting her boyfriend, Hugh (JONAS BLOQUET); being called to her school by the principal for misbehaving; rescuing her from a rave party gone wrong; and playing music loud enough in the car to cover the sounds of criminal Mitat (MARC ANDREONI) who he's kidnapped and intends to torture to get information on the Wolf's whereabouts.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I liked "3 Days to Kill." I really did. It's probably Kevin Costner's best role in years. But I gotta say. It could have been Nicolas Cage's best role in years! Yes, I know. Cage has turned into a complete cheese dog in recent years with his hammy line deliveries, silly facial tics, and generally unhinged performances. But, at its core, "3 Days to Kill" is actually a deeply silly flick. And while Costner DOES deliver ... Cage could have made this thing sing.

Lazy critics are going to christen it "Taken 3." But the two "Taken" thrillers are fairly hard-edged suspense flicks with a bit of humor here and there. "3 Days to Kill" also has an edge. It really skirts the edge of the PG-13 rating with its often bloody fights and shootouts. And it does feature an aging government assassin/spy tasked with tracking down some nasty Euro-baddies in Paris all while looking to reconnect with his ex-wife and teenage daughter.

But it also has a subplot involving a nutty family squatting in the Costner character's apartment, and the local police not doing anything to help. It also has a running subplot of a local criminal with ties to an international arms dealer known as The Wolf being stuffed into the American's car trunk and driven around. And it has Amber Heard vamping it up as a femme fatale CIA operative who casually drives through Paris' streets at 100 miles per hour, smokes long cigarettes, wears slinky clothes, and likes to watch two girls dance a striptease while sipping champagne. It also has Costner taking a wonder drug to cure him of cancer that distorts his vision and sends off alarm bells in his ears. The only thing that counters the side effect? Swigging large quantities of vodka!

Cage would have KILLED in this role! Imagine him wigging out on the squatters, freaking out at Heard's driving, cursing out the guy in his car trunk, and pounding back the Smirnoff's to handle his high. It would have been glorious, sublime camp.

Costner takes a while to find just the right notes to play in this film. The first 20 or so minutes are deceptively serious as the film opens with a botched CIA sting operation that costs Costner's Ethan Renner the lives of all his agents. He then finds out he has terminal cancer. And he travels to Paris where his ex-wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), want nothing to do with him. He clues Christine in about his condition and she agrees to let him see Zoey on a limited basis.

But then the thing turns goofy. Remarkably, though, director McG manages this transition. The humor in this builds. It starts when Ethan, struggling to understand the teenage female mind, learns that one of the guy's he's torturing for information on The Wolf has two teenage daughters. So, he starts picking his brain. Later, he is about to shoot an accountant for the terrorist when he realizes that he's Italian and his daughter needs a pasta sauce recipe that will impress her boyfriend.

This is good stuff! The light humor helps to make palatable the more violent scenes in the film, such as an absolutely brutal public restroom scene in which Ethan intervenes when three male classmates are attempting to sexually assault Zoey. Costner goes absolutely Neeson on the boys with his particular set of skills, doing what every dad wishes he was capable of to a couple of boys trying to get fresh with his little girl.

The movie definitely has a sense of play. The Heard character is utterly preposterous and disappears for long stretches of the film. And in each instance where she comes back, she's more and more slutty, vampy, and over the top. In a Cage film, she would have been perfect. Here, opposite Costner, she's not quite sure if she is in a comedy or a hard action film. Still, she IS entertaining.

I have one major issue with the film's climax. It hinges on a ridiculous convenient chance meeting. It would have been an easy fix in the script to put all of the major players together at its final payoff. But co-screenwriters Luc Besson and Adi Hasak really employ some lazy plotting here. It really kind of mars an otherwise well-constructed spy caper. And for that I have to drop it down to a still-passable 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed February 19, 2014 / Posted February 21, 2014

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