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Monday, Feb. 24, 2014

3 Days to Kill

The Spy Who Came For His Daughter?

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In the middle of a high-stakes operation in Belgrade, Serbia, a U.S. mission to thwart the sale of a dirty bomb by a pair of international masterminds known as the Wolf and the Albino, CIA agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) stops to call his daughter for her birthday. In his moment of distraction, hell breaks loose, rocket-propelled grenades explode, gunfire is exchanged and agents are down. Ethan retrieves the dirty bomb but the bad guys get away.

And we’re only part way through the prelude before the credits start to roll in 3 Days to Kill, an action adventure flick directed by McG (Charlie’s Angels) and co-written by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), Ethan awakens in hospital and is told he’s dying of brain cancer. “Three months—possibly five,” announces the doctor in crisp British tones. “I suggest you put your affairs in order. The CIA thanks you for your service.”

As you can guess from the opening scene, Ethan has had a hard time balancing work and family. And it’s clear enough that the screenwriters were determined to have a little fun with the conventions of their genre. 3 Days to Kill is a movie in which men in dark suits would just as soon shoot out a glass door than open it before stepping through, where serious voices intone “Abort” when a mission is failing, and a veteran CIA agent such as Ethan answers his buzzing smartphone while saving the world to find a text from his estranged wife, reminding him of their daughter’s birthday.

With only three months—possibly five—to live, Ethan comes to Paris where wife, Tina (Connie Nielsen), and teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), have inexplicably settled. Tina is angry at the man who always let her down by putting his job first; Zoey’s skepticism over the old man she has seldom seen is sharpened by scorn. In her eyes, dad is “so last century,” even as he tries to connect.

But that’s not dad’s only problem. Vivi (Amber Heard), a femme fatale CIA agent who changes costume and hair color in every scene (and would just as soon shoot someone as say bonjour) offers Ethan a Mephistophelean bargain—an “experimental drug” that might cure his brain cancer in exchange for coming out of retirement to kill the Wolf. Ethan accepts the deal, his life in exchange for taking a life, but as always, Mephistopheles drives a hard bargain.

Vivi is vivid as full page, full-color drawing in a graphic novel and the Albino is a bald-headed freak; the Wolf is a cypher and Zoey is annoying, self-important and sympathetic in a teen girl way. Costner dominates the show as a ragged yet still vital man who has seen too much horror and just wants out. His bones are tired but his muscles are hard and his mind alert. 3 Days to Kill is an efficiently made, often-humorous movie that works both as thriller and spoof. It’s amusing despite some serious lapses. Memo to the Screenwriters Guild: torture by electroshock is never funny!

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