A Hollywood director with fittingly commercial sensibilities, McG has not always attached himself to the best material (2006's "We Are Marshall
" and 2012's "This Means War
," for instance), but there is a stylistically perky modernism to everything he does. In films such as 2000's "Charlie's Angels
" and its lesser but still solid sequel, 2003's "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
," he managed the tricky feat of taking a television property rooted firmly in the late-'70s and updating it for the twenty-first century with such a fun pop-rock personality and humor that it became one-hundred percent its own entity. McG's behind-the-scenes energy is once again in evidence in "3 Days to Kill," but not even some good performances and rousing uses of music can cloak the unexceptional, frequently schizophrenic screenplay by Adi Hasak (2010's "From Paris with Love
") and Luc Besson (2013's "The Family
"). As a blackly comic action movie, it is usually more obvious than absurdly inspired, while its father-daughter story is so tritely handled as to intermittently turn into the equivalent of a cheeseball Downy commercial.
CIA field agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) hasn't had a sick day in the thirty-two years since he started with the agency, but he might finally be due for one. Increasingly sick, his heart failing him, he goes to see a doctor and learns cancer has spread from his brain to his lungs. He returns to Paris to see estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and 16-year-old daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld) in hopes of making up for lost time while he still has any. What he doesn't count on is to be immediately pulled back into work by slinky operative Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), who offers him an experimental drug to treat his illness in exchange for one final deadly job.
"3 Days to Kill" obviously was filmed as an intended R-rated picture and then censored to narrowly avoid this more-restrictive MPAA rating (the amount of CGI smoke and blurring going on in the strip club scene is almost mesmerizing in its artificiality), but the film does not otherwise appear to outwardly compromise the plot threads being woven. Where things get more problematically murky is in its tonal shifts and lopsided storytelling. There is something appropriately disconcerting and sobering about a lead character who is handed a death sentence and knows there is a lot of unfinished business he would like to take care of before he passes. Beyond this, there is an internal moral tussle going on in Ethan's realization that he has taken a vast number of lives in his line of work and now must make the decision to continue killing as a means of prolonging his own life.
Vying for attention, there are running gags involving Ethan's new ringtone ("I Love It" by Icona Pop) that keeps cutting into tense situations and a purple bicycle he buys Zooey for her birthday. After lugging it around everywhere they go as she continues to stick up her nose at it, the bitter truth comes out: she doesn't like the bike because she never had a father around to teach her how to ride onebecause, you know, mothers must be somehow incapable of dealing with bicycles. Cue scenes where Ethan instructs Zooey while she wobbles around on two wheels as onlookers clap and cheer her on, and another transparently manipulative moment where she stands on his feet and he teaches her how to dance for her upcoming prom. In a spectacularly strained interlude, Zooey apparently forgets how to use Google and dials her father to ask for help on a tomato sauce recipe. As luck would have it, Ethan has an Italian man chained at gunpoint in his bathroom who assists her on the necessary authentic ingredients.
Kevin Costner (2013's "Man of Steel
") is in the midst of a career resurgence, starring in a number of prolific major-studio roles. At 59, he hasn't lost a step as a leading maneven taking into account that he is playing a weary middle-aged man staring death in the face. His maladies are the sort seen only in movies, flaring up exclusively at inopportune times when he is matching wits, brawn and gunfire with the bad guys. Though understandable why he is initially hesitant to reveal his bleak prognosis to Zooey, it is less excusable that she is still in the dark at movie's end. Hailee Steinfeld (2013's "Ender's Game
") is always appealing, able to skirt the line between disengaged and aloof toward her father while clearly yearning to repair their relationship. Maybe the film's brightest turn comes from the most underwritten character; Amber Heard (2013's "Machete Kills
") sweeps in and takes over every scene she is in as Vivi Delay, Ethan's sultry, wig-happy handler. Sadly, she appears too sporadically, at one point disappearing for so long the viewer almost forgets she is in the movie. Whenever she shows back up, though, things noticeably improve.
Any visual media that prominently uses The Temper Trap's intoxicating "Sweet Disposition" on the soundtrack cannot be a total wash, but this aural pleasure is but a temporary diversion to the too cutesy, too maudlin problems at the core of "3 Days to Kill." Despite McG's competent handle on the technical shooting of scenes (gaining an assist from cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, whose lensing of the City of Light is heavenly), the nomadic pacing and bleary mix of earnestness and satire compromise the lasting effect of both components. The way that Ethan solves his crisis-cum-conundrum is likewise an overly tidy afterthought. As comedy, as drama, as crime actioner, the film ends up making little impact at all.