Friday, February 21, 2014

In Theaters: 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014)

(France/US - 2014)

Directed by McG.  Written by Adi Hasak and Luc Besson.  Cast: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Tomas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel, Eriq Ebouaney, Raymond J. Barry, Marc Andreoni, Bruno Ricci. (PG-13, 115 mins)

Luc Besson didn't put forth much effort in the construction of his latest Paris-based actioner 3 DAYS TO KILL.  The whole thing feels like a cut-and-paste job comprised of elements pilfered from past Besson projects like THE PROFESSIONAL (1994), TRANSPORTER 2 (2005), TAKEN (2009), and FROM PARIS WITH LOVE (2010).  Just a month after we saw him playing the mentor role to the inexperienced titular hero in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, 59-year-old Kevin Costner tries to horn in on Liam Neeson's aging action hero turf but it doesn't work nearly as well.  TAKEN was a lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon, a surprise blockbuster that was almost sent straight-to-DVD before Fox decided to dump it in US theaters a year after its European release.  Neeson's career was in a commercial slump and nobody expected much from it.  Instead, it became a genuine word-of-mouth hit--something we don't see much of anymore--and it revitalized Neeson's career, making him more popular than ever and now, at 61, he can still be counted on for a TAKEN knockoff almost annually (NON-STOP, aka TAKEN ON A PLANE, is out next week).  With his "very particular set of skills," everything just fell into place for Neeson with TAKEN.  Costner tries, but doesn't quite pull off the "dangerous badass" bit, though with his character's gravelly voice and his grumpy, sardonic demeanor throughout, he almost approximates what might've happened if the Clint Eastwood of 20 years ago ended up in a Luc Besson joint.

But Costner's not the problem with 3 DAYS TO KILL.  With the possible exception of WATERWORLD, he's never really done the "indestructible action hero" thing and seems to be enjoying himself and his paid Paris vacation.  Costner is Ethan Renner, a covert CIA operative with a nagging cough who lets a pair of targets--Eurotrash terrorist The Wolf (Richard Sammel) and his right-hand man The Albino (Tomas Lemarquis)--slip away during a botched assignment in Belgrade.  While hospitalized, tests show that Ethan is terminally ill with brain cancer that's spread to his lungs.  Given three months to live, he decides to quit the business and spend what little time he has left reconnecting with his estranged wife Tina (Connie Nielsen), who works in Paris, and teenage daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld, from the TRUE GRIT remake).  It's easier said than done, since they're not pleased that he essentially abandoned them for his job five years earlier (Zooey thinks he's a salesman), but especially when he's hounded by sultry CIA assassin Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), who demands that he finish the job.  She even offers him an experimental cancer treatment that might extend his life.  The Wolf and The Albino tried to set off a dirty bomb in Belgrade and Vivi has tracked them to Paris, conveniently enough.  But when Tina goes away on business for the weekend, Ethan is left to take care of Zooey for three days, which really interferes with his ability to knock off this One Last Job.

Brainless action flicks can be a blast when done right and for a while, under the direction of CHARLIE'S ANGELS hack McG, 3 DAYS TO KILL zips along just fine.  But then it starts exhibiting some of the same problems that plague many recent Besson works (especially last year's THE FAMILY) in that he can't settle on a tone or style and the whole thing ends up feeling like a patched-together jumble.  3 DAYS TO KILL is an action thriller, a slapstick comedy, disease-of-the-week melodrama, and sappy daddy/daughter weepie all awkwardly crammed into one.  Costner's crankiness provides some amusement (when confronted with one intentionally trite bit of dialogue, he growls "Did you really just say that to me?"), but his scenes with Steinfeld feel forced and never ring true.  Sloppy editing doesn't help--after they have a huge blow-up, there's a cut to him showing her how to ride a bike like nothing ever happened.  A lot of time is devoted to Ethan shaking down a pair of Wolf flunkies--driver Mitat (Marc Andreoni) and accountant Guido (Bruno Ricci)--with ripped-off armpit hair and car battery-cables-on-the ears torture scenes played for laughs.  There's also a "heartwarming" subplot that has Ethan bonding with a family of squatters led by wise patriarch Jules (Eriq Ebouaney, best known as the killer Black Tie in De Palma's FEMME FATALE) who have taken up residence in his Paris apartment.  There's also time for Ethan rescuing Zooey from an attempted gang rape at a rave where McG winkingly restages a famous image from THE BODYGUARD, plus a strange scene where Ethan teaches Zooey how to slow dance to Bread's "Make it With You" in a moment that invokes the kind of squirming discomfort not seen since Michael Bluth and Maeby Fünke sang "Afternoon Delight" on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

All of this could be entertaining if Besson could settle on what movie he was telling McG to make.  The film often feels like it's been edited at random and may very well have been victimized by post-production reshoots and restructuring.  There's a few scenes where the pitch of actors' voices change and the dialogue doesn't match their lip movements.  Heard sounds dubbed in a lot of her scenes.  She's pretty terrible here in the latest failed attempt to make Amber Heard happen.  It doesn't help that Besson and McG have no idea what to do with her, so they just let her periodically drop in, preen, and strut in a variety of wigs and provocative outfits and flirt with Costner.  She's basically another incarnation of Kate Nauta's memorably lethal killer in TRANSPORTER 2, but Heard isn't believably intimidating, has no screen presence, and is all vamping and smirks.  She looks stunning but there's nothing else there (imagine how much fun someone like Besson's ex-wife Milla Jovovich would've been in this role). You could argue that she doesn't feel like she belongs in the film, but you could say that about every subplot that's randomly inserted by the filmmakers.  McG also gets careless when it comes to covering Costner's stunt double, including one badly-blocked fight scene where "Costner" is only shown from the shoulders down with occasional cuts to close-ups of his face in what feels like an homage to the last decade of Steven Seagal's career.

Despite some good work by Costner, it's doubtful 3 DAYS TO KILL will lead to future endeavors for him as a Neeson-esque asskicker for the Social Security set.  He's credible in the part and looks much younger than a guy pushing 60, but Costner is an actor whose heroic characters have always been more the pensive, earnest, introspective sort.  3 DAYS TO KILL gives him a nice change of pace but it fails to play to his strengths (though, to its credit, an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower isn't accompanied by the caption "Paris").  Of course, Neeson wasn't an action guy either until TAKEN happened to make him one, but by this point in time, it's a formula that's getting too predictable to even function as time-killing comfort food.  From the moment 3 DAYS TO KILL's trailer bowed a few months back, it was obvious that this was "Kevin Costner's TAKEN."  The busy actor (who was also very good in last year's disappointing MAN OF STEEL) will next be seen as the beleaguered general manager of the Cleveland Browns in Ivan Reitman's football saga DRAFT DAY, due out in April, putting Costner back in his familiar BULL DURHAM/TIN CUP/FOR LOVE OF THE GAME sports stomping ground that's always been a proven winner with his fans.  But second-rate action movies with Amber Heard?  He's getting too old for this shit.

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