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New film: 3 Days to Kill

3 Days to Kill
Directed by McG

Buried deep inside “3 Days to Kill” is a good film, or at least the potential for a good film, desperately trying to escape the awful mess. It’s a complicated film, not in the sense that it’s hard to understand but in the sense that it’s cluttered to the point that it’s hard to determine which of the various films that seem to be vying for screen time was the original goal of the project.

It’s narratively cluttered at the same level that kitchens on “Hoarders” are cluttered. The story is so buried, it’s like ordering a simple meal and having so much garnish that you can’t find the food, or the table, or the restaurant.

Kevin Costner plays Liam Neeson Ethan Renner, a career operative for the CIA. We first meet him casually killing several people while battling a nagging cough – he’s the crusty old dude who racks up bodies like these screenwriters rack up sub-plots. In the midst of the action are two villains – the “albino” who doesn’t appear to have any of the physical characteristics of actual albinos, and the “wolf” who is either completely non-threatening and named ironically or is simply wearing his sheep’s clothing for most of the film.

All of this ends badly when Renner collapses and wakes to find himself diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and with only a few months to live. And this is the moment when the film seemed to have the most promise, because it gave us the simple premise of a skilled agent who could go rogue and operate outside the rules of engagement without fear of long-term consequences. That was the simple appeal of a film like “Taken” – another veteran agent who’s suddenly given cause to use his skills without consideration of the established order.

Instead, it’s the point where the film goes off kilter by attempting to do too many things at once, and for too many reasons. For example, there’s the promise of an experimental cure as well as the promise of enough money to secure his family’s future – either of which could have served alone as motivation enough to cause him to go back to work.

Renner’s new boss, the one dangling the redundant bait, is a female senior agent who first appears onscreen looking like a demure new hire. It’s another moment when the film has promise – you expect it to be about the new agent, fresh out of training, teamed up with the jaded veteran who hasn’t seen the policy manual since it was handwritten on parchment. And then, in a neck-snappingly awkward transition, she next appears as a bleached blond femme fatale who seems more like the lead character in a comic book spy story of her own, rather than an unnecessary puppetmaster. All of which is really annoying until, about half way through the film, you realize that her main role in the production is to look sharp while driving one of the product placement Peugeots rapidly through the streets of Paris. She’s the film’s equivalent of a recurring commercial break, a necessary interruption that helps pay for the rest of the show.

Added to all of this is a storyline about Renner’s family – the wife and daughter he’s neglected for years while jetting around the world slaughtering enemies of the state. His wife runs hot and cold like a campground shower and the daughter is simply pissed that he wants to pick up where he left off without a pause. And then he’s unbelievably left to care for the daughter while the wife goes out of town and the plotting and killing go on around him. This causes him to ask some of his wetwork victims for parenting advice – seriously. Tonally, it’s a little like somebody dropped film cans from “Taken” and something like Vin Diesel’s “The Pacifier” and mixed up the reels.

But we’re not even close to done accumulating storylines. There’s also an immigrant family who moved into his Paris apartment while he was away popping caps in the non-albino’s henchmen. This allows for some completely unnecessary social commentary on French squatter laws – to match the brief shoutout to the war in Syria – and somehow throws “The Visitor” (a fantastic film I’m embarrassed to think of in this company) into the muddled mix of film influences.

All of which leaves the screenwriters desperately in need of a device that might somehow tie all, or at least most, of the pieces together – something which is done through the use of an obvious and appalling coincidence. Back in 1998, the film “Dog Park” looked at dating among eight characters whose lives were so coincidentally intertwined, they’d have to live in a town of at most nine people. This is almost as bad and they’re in Paris.

The shame of all of this is that Costner is often fun to watch – and would probably be good in the simpler, buried film. I’m a fan of both Costner and stories in which retired or semi-retired, reluctant heroes get dragged back into the action. But this is as discordant as day one in an elementary school orchestra practice.

There’s a recurring plot element that overstayed its welcome the first time it appeared: Renner repeatedly has an attack of his illness just when he could capture or kill a villain. After the movie ended, a departing viewer said to her companion (paraphrased from memory) “How come the bad guys never had a gun when he collapsed on the ground?” – probably because the screenwriters never had a good idea of how to transition between sub-plots but they needed their hero alive in the next scene.

If you like Costner, there might be just enough here to at least enjoy seeing him back in a lead role on the big screen. But it’s depressing that it had to be this role that accomplished that.

If you like the idea of multiple mismatched screenplays dropped into a shredder and reassembled in the dark, then this might be your favorite film of the year.

 

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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