Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Cinema File #327: "3 Days To Kill" Review

With an uber-producer as prolific as Luc Besson, the law of averages dictates that at this point his output is going to be a bit hit and miss. It would be easy to accuse the director of The Fifth Element of valuing style over substance, and with so many years and so many misses since his best film to ever go stateside in Leon The Professional, it would be even easier to expect the worst whenever his name comes up in association with a movie. If modern Luc Besson is more in line with the lackluster The Family than the groundbreaking Nikita, well, a movie like 3 Days To Kill makes a lot more sense in context. While still just a little more stylish and fun than it has any right to be, 3 Days ultimately fails by being the one thing Besson should never be, which is just plain boring.

3 Days To Kill follows a retired-ish CIA hit man trying to reconnect with his family after discovering that he only has a few months to live, only to be unexpectedly brought back onto one last job in exchange for a miracle drug that might just give him more time to spend with his estranged wife and daughter. Its hard to say which is more implausible, that the now pudgy almost 60 year old Costner can pull off playing a killer for hire, or that he managed to wrangle such a young wife at his age. Neither of these conceits prove to be the silliest of things you have to accept in order to engage with this movie however, because even if you can get past them, you still have narratively convenient heart palpitations, hallucinations cured by vodka, and Amber Heard as a femme fatale trying to pretend she's actually attracted to the guy from Bull Durham.

It probably sounds like I'm being a bit unfair to The Postman here, but he's really one of the biggest problems with this movie. There are certain, very specific contexts in which Kevin Costner still works as a leading man, but high octane action hero isn't one of them. Had this been a vehicle for Besson's Taken colleague Liam Neeson, maybe, but even then, the movie seems to be designed around compensating for the slower requirements of an aging star in a way Neeson's recent Non-Stop proved shouldn't be required. It doesn't help that the movie tries way too hard to justify the need for Costner's character to be there, because apparently he's the only one who has seen the mysterious main villain in person, and instead of just meeting with a sketch artist and letting the much more competent and age appropriate Amber Heard character deal with it, we need the guy who collapses clutching his chest every time he gets in trouble.

Oh yeah, there's that. Costner's character has this condition, which sounded like a cancerous brain tumor when the doctor explained it but apparently affects his heart more than anything, and only when he's in a position where the script needs him to be incapacitated in front of a gun toting bad guy. Said bad guy through most of the film is a stereotypical henchman called The Albino, literally a joke from The Heat come to life without irony, and its a good thing the guy chasing him keeps having attacks, because this chalky villain's preferred mode of execution is placing his victims' heads in the way of oncoming hard things like elevators and trains. Because, you know, just shooting a dude apparently isn't cool enough I guess. Also, the attacks cause hallucinations we don't see, and the only way to cure them is to get drunk, with neither malady really impacting him in any specific way that might have made this idea interesting.

All the pieces are there for a good movie, but at no point is anything really done with them. It has a sense of humor about itself and tries to be a wry tweak on espionage action tropes with a man casually killing people while trying to maintain a home life as a husband and father, but every time it feels like its going anywhere or doing anything to fulfill its obvious potential, it pivots to doing nothing. So much of this movie just lies limp, knowing where to go to be more exciting and then deliberately swerving into the opposite direction. A running gag involving an oft kidnapped driver, or a silly interrogation scene where a hostage is forced to give a recipe for spaghetti sauce to Costner's daughter all display the better movie 3 Days To Kill could have been, but like many films Luc Besson has been involved with, it never quite figures out just what kind of movie it wants to be, and ultimately ends up amounting to nothing as a result.

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