With a title like 3 Days To Kill, you’d expect there to be a constant ticking clock device propelling the characters through the plot and keeping us on the edge of our seats. Why, then, are we given notice even before the main titles are presented that the main character, Ethan Renner, is dying of some type of cancer, only to turn around and give him an arbitrary deadline by a CIA operative to track down and kill some foolish baddies for a possible cure to said cancer. Not much tension in that description, now, is there?
As Ethan, Kevin Costner does a very respectable job at playing a very sick man, who over the course of the film does seem to be getting better. However, he’s not given a whole lot more to work with here as a man searching for a little bit of redemption from his estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielson), and teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfield). When his last (failed) job just happens to follow him back home, he’s enlisted by an extremely attractive CIA operative, Vivi (Amber Heard), who offers him a chance to get back the time he lost when he chose to leave his family to protect them from his job as a cleaner for the CIA.
The idea here is sound, and would probably make for a decent action-thriller if it wasn’t for a script that throws out a series of random subplots and coincidences with nary an explanation or resolution in sight, keeping any real stakes buried deep inside a heap of smoldering sentimentality. There are so many anti-climaxes in this film, in fact, it feels as if this is some sort of Frankenstein monster built from various pieces of other failed attempts at a screenplay.
One key aspect to this mixed-bag of unresolved plot mechanisms is in the thinly-characterized villains. We’re told at the very beginning of the film that this pair of guys, known as the Albino (Tómas Lemarquis) and The Wolf (Richard Sammel), are extreme terrorists that need to be killed at all costs. But neither of these guys are all that menacing in appearance or attitude, and at no time do they present a direct threat to Ethan or his family.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. There is one subplot in which the Albino sends an assassin after Ethan, but the scene is so short — and so arbitrary — that not even the writers find the time to ever mention it again or give it any purpose. And the final sequence of the film, in which the Wolf does pose a small threat to Ethan’s family, only happens because of happenstance, not because they care if he or his family dies. It makes the film feel rather tiresome, in that there is no danger to Ethan at all except for the situations he himself puts himself into.
Situations that turn out to be either unbelievable or only possible due to forced circumstance, as when he kidnaps one of the Albino’s lackey’s, for example. The only way he would be able to succeed is if everything is in the right place at the right time, even those things that are entirely out of Ethan’s control. Now if there were more moments like the next scene, where Ethan ties the lackey up in his bathroom, only to be interrupted by Zoey looking to get a recipe for pasta sauce, we might have gotten much more entertainment value for the buck.
I understand that the film may have tried to focus more on the family relationship aspects than on the action side of the plot, but that doesn’t excuse the filmmakers from ignoring coherence or depth for that reason. Some of the family dynamics are well done, including a subplot involving a family of squatters who have put up residence in Ethan’s vacant apartment. There are some very nice moments between Ethan and this family that help bring out the compassion that was long ago buried, and helps him understand why he seeks to become a family once again. But the overall essence of these sequences are very light and don’t seem to want to dig deep for any dramatic substance.
Hailee Steinfield also has some nice moments as a typical teenage daughter with mood swings that change more often than a chameleon in a Baskin-Robbins, but I wasn’t completely sold on how her acceptance of Ethan evolves. When Ethan teaches her to ride the bike he got her (a prop that got so much screen time, I expected it to play a much larger role in the end game than it did), there is a sweetness and bond between them that I wanted to believe, but couldn’t, simply because it felt far too easy, especially for a daughter who all but resents her father at the beginning of the film.
There is certainly a spark of something good here; of something better. Had the writers taken the time to tighten up the story and give it some purposeful depth, perhaps they would have been able to mold and shape it into an engaging family drama with some decent thriller elements. But when we’re left without any reason for why Ethan only has three days to kill or why Vivi enlists his help in the first place, or any satisfactory answers to anything, really, all we’re given is a promise left wholly unfulfilled.
My Grade: C
Next week, new movies include Non-Stop and Son of God. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.