Kevin Costner tries to return to the good old days in "3 Days to Kill." Credit: Julian Torres
'3 Days to Kill' Director: McG Stars: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld Rating: PG-13 2 (out of 5) Globes
The hard truth about Kevin Costner’s career is that he’s an excellent supporting player and romantic comedy actor who thinks he’s a serious dramatic lead. He can be a very good serious actor, if one prone to hubristic mega-failures. But he’s better when he’s having fun, as in “Silverado,” “Bull Durham” or in his recent history of playing second fiddle in “The Upside of Anger” and “Jack Ryan.”
On paper, “3 Days to Kill” sounds like the ideal comeback-to-the-lead project. (Costner hasn’t headlined a film since the 2008 comedy “Swing Vote.”) He plays Ethan Renner, an aging secret service agent and assassin. It features two things Costner can do well: action and comedy. It’s cowritten by Luc Besson, the Eurotrash auteur who, with “Taken,” turned no less than Liam Neeson into an AARP-aged badass. And it begins promisingly: Ethan is introduced coughing sickly after wiping out a hotel suite of baddies.
Turns out that cough is worse than it seems: Ethan is dying. Told to settle his affairs, he returns to his Paris home to reconnect with his estranged ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) and the daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) he hasn’t seen since she was a child. Steinfeld’s Zoey is an angry teen, rightfully pissed at a workaholic dad who’s been MIA most of her life.
How do you treat that with comedy (or action)? You don’t. Or “3 Days to Kill” never finds a way. Both illness and family affairs serve to bog down what seemed a peppy fogey fighting romp. Alas, this is one of Besson's rare sincere moods, but it lacks the outlandish silliness of something like his endearingly misguided angel redemption/love story "Angel-A." Costner plays it straight, spending the entire film speaking in a gruff grizzle that makes him sound like Christian Bale’s Batman. Ethan seems to only suffer attacks when it’s convenient for the plot — say, when he needs to gun down the anonymous Euro villain but suddenly can’t.
The relationship between dad and daughter is meant to be touching, and both actors try to give it believable grounding. But it's mostly rote, when it's not being weird. When Zoey is punished for starting a fight at school, Ethan congratulates her aggression, and later sneaks onto her Facebook page without a pause to consider that might be creepy. The only thing that distinguishes “3 Days to Kill” is its unthinking lack of good taste. Besson is an unapologetic vulgarian whose, shall we say, Frenchness doesn't always translate smoothly (see: the blue tentacled diva in "The Fifth Element," or just about anything in "The Fifth Element"). But more shocking is his lack of basic morals. Last year’s “The Family” had its leads unthinkingly murder people over minor slights. No one here thought to edit out old school “Brokeback Mountain” gay panic jokes or a subplot about wacky immigrants squatting in Ethan’s unused apartment.
Then again, the director is McG, whose last film, the action romantic comedy “This Means War,” had government agents using NSA techniques to spy on a girl they both liked. His and Besson’s lack of self-awareness might be their most eccentric trait. It’s certainly more interesting than anything else in their picture.