Sunday, May 18, 2014

3 Days to Kill (2014)

Retired by the CIA – with cheap watch and pension and little else -because of his terminal cancer, killer Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) goes to Paris to attempt to reconnect with his wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and his teenage daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld) before he dies; a purple bicycle will be involved.

As luck will have it, oversexed CIA gal Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) decides that Ethan might have seen the mysterious evil international arms dealer only known as The Wolf (Richard Sammel) in his final mission, and now wants Ethan to find and eliminate said The Wolf (his main henchman is a guy called The Albino who doesn’t actually seem to be an Albino, by the way, and rather looks more as if he were called The Hairless Guy). Ethan’s prize would be an experimental drug that just might cure his cancer if it doesn’t kill him. Consequently, Ethan is back killing and torturing people again, while at the same time trying to juggle fatherly responsibilities and an attempt to get back in his wife’s good graces.

As frequent readers know, I have a conflicted relationship with the films made by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp. As much as I like their project of making European-based mid-budget genre movies with as many international actors in a career low as they can hire, as little do I enjoy many of Besson’s scripting tendencies, particularly the often needless stupidity, and the unhappy feeling Besson is proud of the general dumbness of what he writes.

It doesn’t help that some of EuropaCorp’s directors are guys like Olivier Megaton, who never saw an action sequence he wanted to film in a comprehensible way, and never encountered an annoying editing tic he didn’t want to repeat again and again. As luck will have it, somebody involved in EuropaCorp seems to have realized that there are quite a few Hollywood directors in a career low too, so they can actually hire someone who knows how to direct a movie instead of Megaton. In a curious turn of events, that special someone in this friendlier variation on Taken is McG, not a director I usually connect with things like “competence” or movies I actually want to see.

McG does good work here, though, connecting the script’s curious mixture of broad comedy (there are torture jokes), kitschy family drama, the slightly more down to Earth version of EuropaCorp action that leaves Besson’s oldest enemy – gravity – untouched, and Besson’s infatuation with bizarre and puzzling ideas (not that I blame him for that), in a way that results in a highly entertaining film, if one with a script that only tenuously, and for the most part without seeming to try very hard, connects its disparate part. The script even needs to use pure chance to throw together the film’s grand finale.

Fortunately, when taken separately, the film’s single parts are done with professionalism and often charm, and while they only make a successful whole if you’re willing to suspend quite a few more things than mere disbelief, 3 Days to Kill works hard to convince a viewer to like it enough to suspend whatever the film asks her to. I, at least, found myself disarmed early on (perhaps only by the shock of actually getting to see what happens in the action sequences instead of guessing at it), laughing about my share of the film’s jokes, raising my eyebrow happily at the film’s more outré or just unexplained ideas, raising my other eyebrow less happily about stuff like the squatters from Mali who have moved into Ethan’s apartment and teach him a valuable lesson by virtue of their “authenticity”, and not feeling too offended by the family drama stuff. The last is made a bit easier by the happy fact that Ethan’s teenage daughter is actually played by a teenager, isn’t annoying, doesn’t get kidnapped, and is even allowed to have sex without getting punished for it (spoiler), which makes the whole “bringing the family back together” thing less unpleasantly reactionary as it could be, particularly since Ethan’s fathering style – while still pretty violent – doesn’t seem as outright insane as is par for the course in these films.

It also helps the film that the cast is pretty fun to watch too. Costner (of whom I’ve never been much of a fan) seems to have slightly puzzled fun with the film’s weirder aspects and is generally really funny when he’s supposed to, teary when he’s supposed to, and off-handedly violent when it’s time for that, while Steinfeld and Nielsen have the family drama down pat, and Heard works her modern low budget movie queen magic with just the right degree of self-irony and some interesting costuming decisions.

So, as the man (right, me) said more than once about other films already goes here too: what’s not to like?

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