It used to be that action blockbusters, populated by familiar names and high profile directors, would be scheduled for the key summer and Christmas slots. Nowadays, though, those seasonal high traffic areas are reserved for four quadrant spectacles designed to appeal to grandma, little Timmy, and everyone in between. That means that a glut of these movies find themselves pushed to the margins of the calendar -- the late summer and early-in-the-year slots that are seen as somewhat less desirable. One such movie is "3 Days to Kill," starring Kevin Costner and directed by one-time big name McG.
In the movie, Costner plays an assassin who is diagnosed with a terminal illness, forcing him to try and reconnect with his petulant teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) before he dies. Oh, and he is also being contracted to finish the job that he wasn't able to complete due to his illness. So there's that, too.
The movie comes from co-writer/producer Luc Besson, who has given us "Taken" and "The Family" and all sorts of other European-y thrillers. But does it deliver on its admittedly delicious promise? Or should it have been put out of its misery before the three days are over?
1. It Has a Cool Title Card
Never underestimate the importance of a cool title card. A lot of movies don't care about their title card, and you know what? That probably speaks volumes to the lack of imagination and general creative bankruptcy of the rest of the movie. Thankfully, you can say a lot of things about "3 Days to Kill," and a lot of those things might be unpleasant. But this much is certain: it has a cool title card. It's a white font that gets blood-splattered until the letters become red. Cool right? Exactly!
2. It's Good to Have Costner Back
Kevin Costner seems to be having something of a moment: he co-starred in last month's rather blah "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and he is headlining "Draft Day," a football drama that I've heard is rather enjoyable (not to mention his somewhat important role in last summer's blockbuster "Man of Steel"). With "3 Days to Kill," it felt like the first time in forever in which Costner takes center stage and it's good to have him back: he is an actor who has doggedly refused to be nipped or tucked and his face, weathered by age and experience, is a sight to behold. He is fully engaged in both sides of his character -- the cold-blooded killer stuff and the dad-trying-to-reconnect stuff, and he gets to show off his under utilized comedic timing in a way that seems genuinely fresh. In short, he might be in every other movie that comes out this year, but that isn't a bad thing at all.
3. There's a Hint of "Escape From New York"
The way that Costner is able to complete his mission (or at least attempt to complete his mission) is that he's supplied with a magical serum by a mysterious female agent played by the always sultry Amber Heard. That gives the movie an air of John Carpenter's immortal "Escape From New York," in which a similarly grumpy con is forced to rescue the president from a prison island or more recent high velocity action movies like the two "Crank" movies starring Jason Statham. It's kind of weird, actually, but it manages to drive the action a little bit more and gives him a reason to be doing all of the things that he's doing. Also, it makes for some slightly trippy "hallucination" sequences that quite frankly should have been a little more bizarre, all things considered.
4. Costner Wears a Pretty Sweat Pea Coat
You'd think he'd wear something more menacing, but Costner's choice of outerwear is pretty tame -- not a leather jacket or a duster or anything like that. No. He wears a wooly pea coat, which makes him look kind of like Paddington Bear... except with the face of a grizzled white guy. That's when you know you're a stone cold bad-ass: you can rock outwear that makes you look like an adorable stuffed bear and still be able to maim or murder everyone in the room.
5. Hailee Steinfeld Has Grown Into a Tough Teenager
Hailee Steinfeld is best remembered for her role in the Coens's "True Grit" remake, in which she is just incredible. She costarred in last fall's "Ender's Game" adaptation, which was just this side of misery, and has thankfully rebounded with this role. Not a whole lot is required of her, but she manages to do the "fed-up teenager" thing better than most, and she has an inner sweetness which makes you root for her to connect with Costner in more than just superficial ways. While it's still not clear if she's the next Drew Barrymore or Jodie Foster (or not), she is still an exciting young actress to watch evolve. Hopefully she can keep it up. Thankfully the disastrous box office of "Ender's Game" has meant she won't have to do anymore of those. Whew!
6. There's Probably a More Interesting 'European Cut' Somewhere
"3 Days to Kill" has a pretty murder-heavy title (also: pun!) but the violence in the movie is pretty tame and virtually bloodless. Also there's a weird scene that takes place in a strip club in which, at some point in the post-production process, computer generated steam (!) has been added to cover up the ladies' breasts. All of this points to the existence of a much racier, more viscerally satisfying cut of the movie that has the blood and boobs reinstated (it was produced by Luc Besson after all). As it stands, it manages to be fairly violent and PG-13, which might be even worse than an R-rated movie being really violent. I look forward to the unrated Blu-ray.
7. McG Regains Some of His Mojo
McG's last movie was the truly atrocious "This Means War," a big-screen studio action-comedy in which two spies (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine) fought over the same woman (Reese Witherspoon). It seemed to be the last straw for McG, a music video auteur who made the stylistically adventurous "Charlie's Angels" and a whole bunch of movies that people can't remember ("We Are Marshall"? "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle"?) "3 Days to Kill" sees the filmmaker regaining at least some of the mojo that made him such an exciting filmmaker in the first place. It's good stuff.
8. It's a Lot Like 'Taken'
Yes, Luc Besson co-wrote and produced "Taken" and co-wrote and produced this, although it didn't have to be so much like "Taken." In particular, there's a sequence where Costner rescues his daughter from a situation that could have easily turned into a gang rape scenario that could have been lifted from either "Taken" movie (just replace Costner with Liam Neeson). Given Besson's voluminous output, it probably shouldn't be that much of a surprise that the two scripts are so similar but at the same time... Come on...
9. There's a Weird Subplot About Costner's African Squatters
In "3 Days to Kill," Costner returns from the field to find his crummy Parisian apartment full of African squatters. It seems like a truly bizarre subplot, especially given the somewhat questionable attitude French people take to anyone who is anything other than French. The fact that Costner is told by police officers that they have squatter rights and can stay is even weirder and the way it plays out is just insane. Wasn't this movie sappy enough?
10. This Could Be a New Franchise
Just imagine it! Costner could be facing a different life-threatening ailment and be forced back into the spy business in each movie. Think about what he'd have to do for knee-replacement surgery. The possibilities are endless!