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3 Days to Kill
Killing time with Vivi (Amber Heard) and Ethan (Kevin Costner)
Photo: Columbia Pictures/MGM

3 Days to Kill
Directed by McG
Rated PG-13
Spent 21 February 2014

Kevin Costner, Luc Besson and McG make for a highly entertaining ménage a trois.

The Wolf and the Albino

3 Days to Kill

Writer/producer Luc Besson, best known for Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element, is mining familiar territory in this tale of an absentee father who's trying to come to terms with his broken family and dangerous lifestyle. There is a twist, though, as Besson upends a lot of the standard "American abroad" thriller conventions thanks to heavy doses of humor and a dash of heart.

As in every James Bond movie, the movie's title is slipped into the dialogue, but here the reference to 3 Days to Kill is made in an unexpected context, one that has absolutely nothing to do with the espionage mission at hand. It's actually funny. Intentionally so.

That mission finds Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) tracking down a dealer in atomic matter and dirty bombs in Serbia. The mission is an abject failure as the two key targets, The Wolf (Richard Sammel, Inglourious Basterds) and The Albino (Tomas Lemarquis, Snowpiercer), get away and leave loads of collateral damage in their wake. What's worse for Ethan, though, goes beyond the battle scars he suffers. His doctor reveals Ethan has a terminal illness and he has only a few months left to live.

It's a terminal illness. It's Paris. But the violin music doesn't play. This isn't Tendres passions. But his estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen, Gladiator), does show just the right amount of emotion upon hearing the news.

Kill or Die

At first blush, it looks like Costner is parlaying his Pa Kent role in Man of Steel into a career path akin to Liam Neeson's by going from respected, award-winning actor to action star. Based on Costner's winning performance here, that move has plenty of untapped potential. But, once again, there's more to 3 Days to Kill than stunts and action spectacle.

Costner is 59 and he's a more interesting actor to watch now than he was in his matinee idol days of Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. Here his character is sick - physically and of the life he's led. He wants nothing more than to end his life on a good note, to reconnect with his teenage daughter and to reassure his wife he meant well.

Unfortunately for Ethan, a purple bicycle (which turns into a running gag) and a recurring mission to finish off The Wolf and The Albino aren't exactly the way to go about either of those personal matters.

But that CIA mission does rear its ugly head time and again thanks to his ultra-hot CIA handler, Vivi (Amber Heard, Drive Angry). She's promised him an experimental drug that could prolong his life. It has some unfortunate side effects, but it could very well give him a new lease on life.

Despite Vivi's flirtations, Ethan knows what works for him and she's not it. Even during the final shootout, Vivi winds up standing over Ethan's prostrate body. As always, she's smokin' hot and she fills out her tight mini skirt very well. But Ethan looks up and simply asks, "Am I in Hell?"

I Don't Care

Besson played with the dichotomy of a New York mobster on the lam in sleepy Normandy in The Family and the result was less than pleasant. Here, his screenplay (co-written with Adi Hasak) finds a nice, albeit imperfect, balance between humor, French satire and genuine action. And it works as a good marriage with director McG's sensibilities. The director of the big screen Charlie's Angels movies and We Are Marshall seems at home in France, taking full advantage of Parisian landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Sacré Coeur in his scenery.

It's the playfulness with the material, as juggled by Costner, Besson and McG, that ultimately makes 3 Days to Kill a winner. It's not a straight-up action flick nor is it a straight-up family drama, but it has plenty of fun in the mash-up.

The broadest humor comes at the expense of an informant named Mitat (Marc Andreoni, Leon: The Professional). He's got a wife and two daughters, so Ethan seeks out his advice, on occasion, in regard to his own daughter's habits and behaviors. But when it comes down to business, Mitat knows the drill: Get in the trunk.

As for Ethan's troublesome daughter, Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld, Ender's Game), she seemingly leads Ethan into one red herring after another. She's not being assaulted in her bedroom. She's screaming out of frustration with her hair - it's the day before prom! The bashed in door? Well, Ethan will have to fix it. Zooey's thrill-seeking teenage ways are reasonable cause for alarm and serve as the bonding gateway Ethan desperately needs to rebuild his relationship with his daughter.

Nonetheless, he's none too thrilled with Zooey's choice in a boyfriend. Ethan has a sense for people and the kid, a football striker and dance floor master, sends his senses tingling.

All of those story threads — The Wolf, The Albino, the boyfriend, the miracle drug — tie together in a pretty slick conclusion. Without a doubt, 3 Days to Kill won't make everybody's day, but those with a taste for Besson's mayhem should find plenty to savor. And it's exciting to see Costner dive deeper into the action fray.

• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.

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