With Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Amber Heard, Tómas Lemarquis. Written by Adi Hasak & Luc Besson. Directed by McG. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language. 113 minutes.
It’s not always easy for actors to reinvent themselves. The public sees them as a certain “type” and doesn’t always accept them when they try to break the mold. In the past few years, two actors have done very well finding new career paths. Liam Neeson became an unexpected action star (his latest, “Non-Stop,” opens next week) and Matthew McConaughey may well win an Oscar not as a leading man but as a character actor in “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” With five films on the schedule for this year, Kevin Costner seems be trying to transition as well.
It began with his turn as Jonathan Kent, Superman’s adoptive father, in last year’s “Man Of Steel.” Last month he was a definite plus in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” as the man who brings Ryan into the CIA, but unfortunately, the film didn’t catch on with the public. This month he’s back with 3 DAYS TO KILL, and he’ll be around next month in “Draft Day” with two more movies in the pipeline.
If you walked into “3 Days to Kill” knowing nothing about it, you’d quickly come to two conclusions. First, Costner is trying to follow the path of Neeson in “Taken,” mixing family concerns with violent action and intrigue while running around Paris. Second, Luc Besson must have had something to do with the script. In fact Besson is credited with the story and co-writing the script with Adi Hasak.
The premise–trying to avoid spoilers here–is that Ethan Renner (Costner) is a professional assassin for the CIA. When Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) is tasked to take out international arms dealers the Wolf (Richard Sammel) and the Albino (Tómas Lemarquis) she’s told that Renner, a “lifer,” will be the one who can pull the trigger. Director McG sets up a good opening sequence in a hotel with spies, dirty bombs, shootouts, and Renner trying to call his daughter on her birthday.
Renner then returns to Paris where his wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) live. He’s spent so many years travelling that he is estranged from them both, and really only remembers his daughter as a little girl, not the teenager she has become. This sets in motion the dual track of the main story with Delay pushing Renner to get the killings done while he’s trying to reestablish a relationship with his daughter.
The comedy–and there are laughs amidst the killings and chases–comes from the juxtaposition of the two. In several scenes he is in the midst of a confrontation when his phone rings with the distinctive ringtone Zoey has put on it. After one shootout, Renner and the much younger Delay get into an argument over which of the suspects is “young.” To the fifty-something Renner, someone in his 30s is young. To Delay, he is “middle-aged.”
You’ll probably see the set up for the final showdown coming but it’s still played out with enough action to satisfy. The question for Costner is not whether the film works. If you like the fast-paced thrillers with twists that we’ve come to associate with Besson (“The Professional,” “Taken,” “Transporter”) then this should score. The question is whether audiences will embrace him as they have Neeson, as an older actor playing a character you wouldn’t want to cross in a fight but who is just as likely to be concerned with whom his daughter is dating. It’s the role of vulnerable action hero as opposed to the more traditional character we expect in such films. Movies like “Taken,” “The Expendables,” and “Red” have helped replace the bland leads with older, more weather-beaten characters. Costner may be late to the party, but “3 Days to Kill” shows he’s ready to rumble.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.