3 Days To Kill is one Liam Neeson shy of a Liam Neeson vehicle. Produced by EuropaCorp (of Taken fame) and co-written by Luc Besson (also of Taken fame), the film features a 60-ish American operative darting around a European city, fretting about his teenage daughter and demonstrating his very particular set of skills. The part could have been (and maybe was) written for Neeson, who’s carved out quite a niche for himself in the booming industry of French-made action distractions. Instead, however, the producers of 3 Days To Kill have secured Kevin Costner, an actor comparable only in AARP eligibility. When Neeson slums in genre junk, he does so with grizzled intensity, turning his physical wear and tear into an advantage. Costner, by contrast, is too laidback to intimidate; he seems less battle-wearied than simply weary, nailing only half of the profitable “aging ass-kicker” equation. Firefights and car chases just don’t suit this movie star of advancing years.
Decked out in loose-fitting formal wear, as though a lack of 007 suaveness were the height of hilarity, Costner plays Ethan, a veteran CIA trigger man forced into belated retirement by a fatal medical diagnosis. Ready to call it a career, he trudges back to Paris to spend his remaining days with the estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steineld) he’s historically neglected. The CIA, however, has other ideas: Dangling an experimental cure under his nose, the organization coerces Ethan into one last execution order—an assignment that naturally coincides with a three-day stint looking after his brood while the wife is away on business. 3 Days To Kill pivots around that personal/professional dilemma, forcing its over-the-hill hitman to multitask between father-knows-best bonding sessions and the less heartwarming business of obtaining sensitive information using a car battery. The results—sometimes distasteful, never funny—suggest a schmaltzy family dramedy periodically interrupted by slipshod action scenes.
Sitting at the helm of this schizophrenic entertainment is McG, the mononymous Hollywood hack behind the Charlie’s Angels movies and Terminator: Salvation. The director has attempted comic spy games before, in the profoundly creepy rom-com This Means War. Just as that film put an “amusing” spin on government wiretapping and other invasions of privacy, 3 Days To Kill milks enhanced interrogation methods for unsavory humor. (The movie’s lamest running gag finds Ethan interrupted, moments before violating some civil liberty, by the tinny blare of Icona Pop’s “I Love It”—his daughter’s ringtone, naturally.) Though plagued by guilt over his years as a deadbeat dad, Costner’s seasoned assassin is unburdened by killer’s remorse; he even makes a local moppet, the son of the family squatting in his Parisian apartment, an accomplice to his torture techniques. Ethan isn’t much more appealing as a father figure: Stopping a trio of Euro-trash teens from gang-groping his daughter at a nightclub, he confronts that trauma with tough love, coming dangerously close to blaming the victim. Later, after a reconciliation, the two share a vaguely incestuous slow-dance; audiences may be reminded that Besson, working at the bottom of his abilities here, also conceived of the pedophilic quasi-romance in The Professional.
3 Days To Kill is sloppy in conception and execution, with subplots that go absolutely nowhere and superfluous supporting characters crowding the movie’s margins. What greater purpose, for example, does Ethan’s vamping CIA handler serve? Played by a ridiculously miscast Amber Heard, who seems to be auditioning for the role of Angelina Jolie’s official successor, this femme fatale strolls blithely into scenes without warning and coos embarrassing bon mots like, “I like my boys better-dressed than the men they kill.” (Her appearances are about as sexy as a cold shower.) As for Costner, he’s just wrong for the part—convincing as a sports-loving American dad, but never as an elite superspy. The Neeson career plan won’t work for everyone. Not many action fans, in other words, are likely to call 3 Days To Kill their jam.