The first hurdle I had to clear when spinning up 3 Days to Kill was reminding myself that it has nothing to do with either Three Days to a Kill or The Next Three Days. Having finished watching it now, I’d have to plop them all into the “meh” category.
3 Days to Kill is about contract killer Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) finding out he has a terminal illness and, with the few months he has left to live, wants to reconnect with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld). No sooner than his heels having struck pavement in Paris where they live, blonde stranger Vivi (Amber Heard) approaches him with personal information about his family, his terminal condition, and offers a temporary cure opposite her own set of blackmail demands.
The trailers for this flick alluded to the retirement, blackmail, and someone leveraging Ethan’s family against him to manipulate him. It looked like an action movie akin to Taken. It turns out it’s more like Message in a Bottle or Tin Cup but with the occasional silenced pistol in lieu of blankets on the beach or teaching proper putting posture.
It’s a story about redemption and absolution and barely about contract killing. I don’t know if Besson was going for a date night movie when he was writing this, but he is known for including the human element in his films and forcing his pet sociopaths to interact with normal folk for our amusement. The we need look no further than the perfect pairing of innocent extrovert Matilda with the maleficent introvert “cleaner” Leon in perhaps his most noteworthy film Leon (a.k.a., The Professional) to see evidence of this. The squatting destitute family with a baby on the way that’s taken over Ethan’s apartment in his absence, the awkwardly adorable interactions with Zooey and her boyfriend, Ethan’s bickering with his wife, the good-natured way he extracts information from his targets while also eliciting recipes for spaghetti sauce and parenting tips for rebellious teenage daughters….wait, wasn’t this movie supposed to be about hunting down a terrorist? Yeah, I thought so, too.
In fact, the focus early on is about Ethan making up for the years he lost with his family due to his work and coming to terms with building relationships when all he knows how to do well is take lives. That sort of internal struggle would have been enough for me. Vivi’s character and the whole subplot with their target “The Wolf” lacks any real development and is completely throwaway. However, several details of the overall story arc bear uncanny resemblances to a story I wrote and naively pitched to Besson about 10 years ago. I assumed it went straight into the void, never to be read by anyone. The fact that I completely predicted the last 20 minutes of 3 Days to Kill about two-thirds of the way through based on my own writing a decade earlier felt a little weird, though.
The picture and sound are everything you’d expect from a Blu-ray: 1080p video and DTS-HD 5.1 English audio with optional English or Spanish subtitles. The video quality makes even sharper the overt and otherwise inexplicable cloud of smoke used to obscure bare breasts on Vivi’s strippers-in-training (whatever that scene was about) in order to achieve a PG-13 rating. Also included are the Theatrical and Extended cuts (about five minutes longer) of the film, and bonuses amounting to a few making of and behind-the-scenes featurettes.
If you go in expecting high action and adrenaline-fueled stunts, you’re going to be disappointed. If you go in expecting Grosse Pointe Blank without the all the snark, wit, and the humor, now you’re getting warmer. It’s not that Costner can’t deliver on being sinister and maniacal, either, as I thought he was terrific in Mr. Brooks. There was an issue with focus here, and the redemption story should have stolen the show. Leave out the contract killing part if you’re not really going to really develop or utilize it (again, reference Taken), and for Pete’s sake, don’t market a touchy-feely movie that borders on “ABC After-School Special” as a big budget action flick. This movie did relatively well at box office despite getting largely negative reviews, probably from others who felt misled. Marketing wins, audience loses. Adjust your expectations up front and you might come out ahead.