What a bizarre little movie. 3 Days to Kill is so odd that I’m still unsure whether I liked it or not. Written by Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional) and directed by McG (This Means War), this movie is unlike whatever you’re expecting it to be. A genre mish-masher to the extreme. Every single scene feels completely different in tone than the one that came before. An experimental festival film that somehow got a wide release. That’s what it feels like. A movie that you’d see at Sundance, walk out, and wonder what exactly you just witnessed.
Out of the myriad of stories taking place the main one is about Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner). He’s a CIA agent who’s found himself estranged from his wife and daughter because of the time he’s spent away. In a movie world full of invincible action heroes Renner is something of a fresh idea. Sure, he knows how to handle himself in tough situations, but he’s anything but invulnerable. He’s middle-aged, and acts like it. He’s just found out he’s got cancer. Maybe a few more months to live. So the time is now if he wants to have a relationship with his teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).
Like Besson’s Leon: The Professional, 3 Days to Kill is peppered with a coming together of two unlikely people. Ethan tries, between actions scenes, to find common ground with his daughter. To finally be there for her. It isn’t as effective as the way Leon and Mathilda find each other. It’s a little rough in places as the movie constantly switches tone, but it brings father and daughter together with an oddball charm. Every person Ethan kidnaps and interrogates offers up advice on how to parent his child. It’s weird, but funny.
Not to be outdone, there are a range of stories happening in 3 Days to Kill that may make many deride the film as messy. Perhaps it is, but it’s entertaining just the same to watch how all these things mold together. Not only is Ethan trying to reconnect with his daughter; he’s trying to win the heart of his ex-wife; he’s dealing with a group of African squatters who’ve taken over his Paris flat; and he’s trying desperately to find and kill a man named The Wolf for a dominatrix style CIA handler played ruthlessly by Amber Heard.
Each of these different storylines has its own genre feel. Whenever Ethan goes to meet Vivi (Heard) it’s like the movie has entered some seedy 1970s grindhouse flick. Then as he arrives home to deal with the squatters he’s suddenly transported to a light-hearted comedic action movie. Other times, when Ethan is with his daughter, it’s almost as if we’ve shifted to watching Kevin Costner in one of his many schmaltzy dramatic roles. It’d be messy if it wasn’t so unbelievably endearing. Action movies are so predictable now; it’s difficult to come out of them thinking that the genre has somehow been reinvented. It’s all about formulas and carefully constructed stories, which fit nicely into the box we think they should fit into. Now here’s an action movie that not only breaks the mold, but shatters it. It doesn’t splinter the genre by crafty, preposterous action scenes. Instead it uses odd shifts in tone, and a surprisingly effective father-daughter story to piece its Frankenstein parts together.
Honestly, I couldn’t help but enjoy what I was watching. Perhaps it’s because 3 Days to Kill is so utterly peculiar that there’s no other choice but to love it. Like a floppy-eared mutt wandering the streets hoping someone somewhere will take it in.
There will be plenty of reviews that ridicule “3 Days to Kill” as being too disordered. I’d argue that the action movie genre needs a little disorder every now and then just to shake things up.