Death by absurdity

Death by absurdity

Loose plot can’t bear its own weight

By Tim Pompey 03/06/2014


3 Days to Kill
Directed by McG
Starring: Kevin Costner,
Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language
1 hr. 57 min.


As a professional assassin, you know you’re having a bad day when you nearly get your head blown off in Serbia chasing after the owner of a dirty bomb and said owner (known as the Wolf) gets away. Next you wake up in the hospital and the doctor tells you you’re dying of cancer. Finally, you go home and find that a family of African immigrants is squatting in your Paris apartment. Funny thing about those socialist French; you can’t throw out squatters in the winter. It’s against the law.

 
But such is the weary life of CIA operative Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), and such is the wild story spun by noted French action writer Luc Besson (Taken I/II, From Paris With Love) and his partner Adi Hasak. I think, given the nature of this plot, that director McG, Besson and Hasak must have made up this tale over cases of French wine while they were skinny-dipping off the French Riviera. It has that kind of absurdist feel to it.


Add to this Renner’s ongoing family drama in which, as a dying man, he is trying to make up for lost time with his teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), and his estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen).


Meanwhile, hot sexy CIA agent Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) offers him an experimental drug for his cancer treatment in exchange for picking up where he left off and killing the Wolf. So, as it stands, Ethan is juggling new teen parenthood responsibilities, fighting the drug’s weird side effects, dodging immigrants and assassinating members of the Wolf’s gang. How’s that for a full day?


It’s a lot to untangle and unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work as it should. These kinds of films require writing with a sharp, dark sense of humor. The audience gets the joke early on. It’s up to the writers to make them laugh.


And sometimes they do. For instance, Ethan, in the middle of a kidnapping, forces the Wolf’s accountant Guido to give Zoey his Italian mother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce over the phone so she can cook dinner for her boyfriend. Guido happily complies. But other attempts at this kind of humor seem to fall flat or, at best, garner only a weak chuckle.


What’s more, 3 Days has a sentimental streak that seems oddly out of place. There are some touching moments between Ethan and his daughter, and one sweet scene where he teaches her to ride a bike. Then off to work he goes to kill his next victim. It’s jarring to say the least, but in the French world of romance and escapism, perhaps not so much.


Give Costner credit for sticking with his character — an assassin grizzled and tired, struggling to stay afloat in the real world. If there’s anyone who can pull this off and keep a straight face, it’s Costner. It’s what he’s been doing his whole career. Brooding, intense and now aging. And he plays the humor well — bemused and perplexed, but always with an underbelly of vulnerability. A modern Gary Cooper who’s mastered the art of the smirk.


This film invites us to throw reason out the window in exchange for action, humor and some homespun drama. It’s a lot to ask, even if you are French or enjoy French sensibilities. Thankfully, it closes strong, at least compared to the beginning and middle, and has some reasonable action sequences that keep the viewer in the game.


As a whole, however, it should have gone back to the drawing board for rewrites. Pare it down, spice it up, make it funnier. While it has its moments, not even Costner’s droll mannerisms or Heard’s stunning makeup can save this story from death by absurdity.

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