Here’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014) which went up this past weekend at cinemaknifefight.com. Remember, if you like to read about movies, check out cinemaknifefight.com where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.
Thanks for reading!
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014)
Review by Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: Outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris. MICHAEL ARRUDA sits at a table at an outdoor café.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome everybody to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I’m flying solo this week as L.L. SOARES is off on another assignment, which is his loss since I get to visit Paris to review today’s movie 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014), a new action thriller starring Kevin Costner and Amber Heard. The film takes place in Paris because— well, there really isn’t a good reason, which is only one of the issues I had with this film.
Anyway, let’s get on with the review.
3 DAYS TO KILL opens with a botched attempt by the CIA to eliminate one of their enemies, a villain named The Wolf (Richard Sammel) who works with another man named The Albino (Tomas Lemarquis)— I have to stop here for a moment. I think I actually laughed out loud when these names were mentioned with straight faces by the main players in this film in its opening moments. The Wolf? The Albino? Seriously?
One of the reasons the attempt goes sour is the main agent on the ground, Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is on the phone trying to wish his teenage daughter a happy birthday. The mission is a disaster, as both The Wolf and The Albino escape, blowing up a hotel in the process, all to the chagrin of the young agent running the operation, Vivi Delay (Amber Heard).
Why Ethan is allowed to keep his job after this bungle I don’t know. Worse yet, when Vivi decides to continue her manhunt for The Wolf, she again turns to Ethan because he’s the one man who knows what the Wolf looks like, and so he’s the only man who can positively identify him and track him down. Really? Ever hear of composite sketches, Vivi? Get Ethan to give an artist a description and then be done with this bum. But, alas, there’s no one around who can kill as well as Ethan. Really? The guy’s ready for retirement, for crying out loud, and not only this, but he’s dying! He can barely stand up and he’s the best guy for the job? Come on!
Yes, Ethan is dying from a rare disease for which there is no cure, and so he visits his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and teen daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) to make amends and spend some time with his daughter in the final months he has to live. Of course, Zoey wants no part of him, since he abandoned her for most of her childhood.
Meanwhile, Vivi informs Ethan that she has an antidote for his disease, an experimental drug that will prolong his life for years rather than months, but to get it, he has to help her find and kill The Wolf. Since Ethan seems to be happiest when he’s beating people up, he quickly agrees, and thus we have the set-up for the rest of the movie, as Ethan has to search for The Wolf while trying to manage his daughter who is as rebellious as they come.
(A drop dead gorgeous woman wearing a tight bright red dress approaches MA.)
WOMAN: I have the antidote.
MA: Excuse me?
WOMAN: I have the antidote. But I’m only giving it to you if you keep your end of the bargain.
MA: I’m sorry. You must have me confused with someone else. I’m here reviewing a movie.
WOMAN: Don’t you want the antidote?
MA: Antidote? For what? I’m not sick. (He sneezes.)
WOMAN: Not sick, eh?
MA: That was just a random sneeze. (Sneezes again.)
WOMAN: Your condition betrays you.
MA: Condition? I just sneezed! What kind of a condition is that?
WOMAN: Keep your end of the bargain, or no antidote!
(She walks away.)
MA: That was strange.
Anyway, the biggest problem I had with 3 DAYS TO KILL— and I had a lot of problems with this film— is that it suffers from a huge case of the “sillies.” It gets really silly at times, and this goofiness works against its plot, which I thought was supposed to be an action thriller.
The attempts at comedy generally misfire, mostly because they’re not realistic. The scene where Ethan opens the trunk to his car and tells the guy he has tied up in there to be quiet because he’s trying to talk to his daughter is supposed to be funny, but it misfires because it seems so fake. Who says things like that? A comedian, maybe.
Things get even sillier when Ethan keeps going back to this same guy for information about The Wolf, and these scenes are supposed to be humorous, but they’re not. The worst scene with these two occurs when they’re having a conversation and they approach Ethan’s car, and I expected the guy to enter the passenger seat, but what does he do? He actually steps into the trunk voluntarily. Who does that?
In another scene, Ethan is interrogating a man who happens to be Italian, and in the middle of the interrogation, Ethan’s cell phone rings with his daughter’s ring tone. This is a running gag in the movie, as it tends to ring at the most inopportune moments–another lame attempt at humor. His daughter is looking for a spaghetti sauce recipe so she can cook dinner for her boyfriend. Now, that’s realistic, a high-schooler cooking a gourmet meal for her boyfriend. Yeah, right.
Ethan says to his prisoner, “You’re Italian. Do you know how to make spaghetti sauce?” He forces the guy at gunpoint to give his daughter the spaghetti sauce recipe. Again, this is supposed to be funny, but it’s not. It comes off as extremely goofy.
On top of this, the film also suffers from a bigger case of the “cutes.” Ethan buys a bicycle for his daughter Zoey. Aw, isn’t that cute? Ethan teaches his daughter how to dance, and his wife Christine walks in and is so touched by the scene. Aw, isn’t this even cuter? Ethan literally picks up and carries his daughter out of harm’s way when she’s nearly assaulted in a nightclub. Isn’t that the cutest? Gag me!!!
The plot holes in this one are bigger than the pot holes on the roads in my neighborhood, and some of those pot holes are the size of Rhode Island. Who is The Wolf? Why is the CIA so interested in killing him? We don’t really know. It’s mentioned early on that he funds terrorism or something like that, but that’s it. You know what would have worked better? Had we actually seen him do some of the things that make him a wanted man, but in this movie, we see The Wolf do next to nothing. He’s also a very ineffective villain. He knows Ethan’s identity throughout the film, and yet he can’t stop him. He can’t stop one guy?
This movie would have been far more interesting if we knew why Ethan had to kill the Wolf. What nefarious plot was the Wolf hatching? I have no idea. I do know that Ethan bought his daughter a bicycle.
(MA’s cell phone rings.)
Excuse me while I take this. (Speaks into cell phone.) Hello?
WOMAN’S VOICE: You must keep your end of the bargain. The fate of the free world is in your hands.
MA: I told you, you have the wrong guy!
WOMAN’S VOICE: If I have the wrong guy, then why did you answer his cell phone?
MA: I— I don’t know.
WOMAN’S VOICE: You have to kill him. He’s on his way.
MA: Who is?
WOMAN’S VOICE: The Bunny!
MA: You want me to kill someone named the Bunny? I can’t take any more of this. (shuts off his cell phone.)
That woman is crazy. Okay, back to the review.
Why is this movie taking place in Paris? The only reason it seems to me is so we can see some picturesque shots of the City of Love, and I can’t take that away from the movie. Paris looks great, but other than the fact that Ethan supposedly transferred there to be close to his estranged family, the location has no relevance. And isn’t it a happy coincidence that this A-List villain The Wolf who must be killed at all costs just happens to live in Paris as well?
This is not to say I hated 3 DAYS TO KILL. There were some parts that I liked. For example, I really enjoyed the scenes where Kevin Costner’s Ethan was being a bad ass. In these scenes, the humor works, because it’s not silly or cutesy. When Ethan can barely stand up due to his illness, and yet he can still single-handedly wipe out a group of assassins, as in one scene where Ethan’s lying there barely alive, and a guy he just shot off the roof falls on the ground behind him with a huge thud, that was funny.
It’s also hard not to laugh when the sound effects for Ethan’s punches when he beats ups his adversaries are so exaggerated I half expected to see the words POW! and BAM! appear on screen.
The one subplot I did enjoy was the plight of the squatter family inside Ethan’s Paris apartment. He returns home to find a family living in his apartment and to his chagrin learns that the law protects these folks during the winter months, and so he just is going to have to live with them. The relationship between Ethan and this family, especially the young boy who looks up to him, is one of the more refreshing and sincere parts of this otherwise convoluted film.
I also liked Kevin Costner’s performance. It was good to see him back on the screen as a lead character. He makes a convincing tough guy, and plays Ethan like an aged and very ill Jason Bourne. However, he’s stuck in the sickly sweet plot of daddy gets to know daughter, which did nothing for me and didn’t do him any favors.
(There is suddenly loud coughing from behind MA. A man taps MA on the back.
MAN (coughing): Give me your cell phone.
MA: My cell phone?
MAN: It’s mine. Here’s yours (hands MA his cell phone.) I switched them when I bumped into you this morning.
MA: Well, that explains the woman calling me earlier. Why did you switch them?
MAN: So The Bunny couldn’t trace my whereabouts. Give me my phone now.
MA: Sure, you can have it.
(The Man suddenly has a huge coughing fit and collapses to the ground. Dead.)
MA: Hmm. That’s not good. (Cell phone rings.) Hello?
WOMAN’S VOICE: The Bunny is on his way! You have to kill him.
MA: Look, your guy just showed up, the guy who you think I am, but I’m afraid you have a problem. See, I think he just died on you.
WOMAN’S VOICE: Dammit! Then it’s up to you. You have to kill The Bunny!
MA: Let me finish with my review first, and then I’ll get back to you. (Shuts off his cell phone.) Kill the Bunny! Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?
(From afar, comes the operatic voice of Elmer Fudd)
FUDD: Kill the Rabbit! Kill the Rabbit!
MA: That was weird. I gotta finish this review and get the hell out of here.
Amber Heard as Vivi doesn’t fare as well. She really isn’t in the film all that much, and to me, that’s all you need to know about what’s wrong with this movie. You have Amber Heard as a major character, and you choose not to utilize her, instead spending time on Ethan’s family?
As a result, we know little about Vivi’s background, motivations, or goals, and she comes off as a completely one-dimensional character. She’s as lifeless as a still photo. She makes a gorgeous still photo, but I’d rather she were a gorgeous three-dimensional character.
Heard’s Vivi is constantly coming on to Costner’s Ethan, and he’s constantly ignoring her— yeah, that’s believable!— telling her that he’s not interested in her. See, this is supposed to make Ethan admirable, because what he’s saying here without really saying it is that he’s not interested in Vivi because he’s only interested in his estranged wife, but the problem with this is he’s so disinterested in Vivi, that Costner and Heard share no onscreen chemistry at all. This film completely wastes Amber Heard’s sex appeal. It also makes Costner’s Ethan seem like a corpse. Amber Heard is coming on to you, and you have absolutely no reaction? Are you kidding me?
It also doesn’t help that Heard has some of the worst lines in the movie.
Hailee Steinfeld is fine as Ethan’s daughter Zoey, but unfortunately her character is very cliché. I’m growing tired of these “single father has to handle tough teenage daughter” storylines. Steinfeld fared much better as Mattie Ross in the remake of TRUE GRIT (2010).
And I liked Connie Nielsen as Ethan’s wife Christine. There was something very sincere and sensual about her, something that was completely absent from Amber Heard’s character. I could easily see why Ethan loved her so much. But what I didn’t like was the way the script handled her. When we first see her, she seems to hate Ethan, and doesn’t even want to talk to him, let alone see him, but as the movie goes along, she’s ready to fall in love with him all over again. Really? I didn’t buy it.
Eriq Ebouaney is excellent in a small role as Jules, the father of the squatter family inside Ethan’s home. He may have given the best performance in the entire movie. The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, especially the villains.
3 DAYS TO KILL can’t make up its mind whether it’s a comedy or a thriller. It should have stuck with being a thriller, because the comedy doesn’t work. It reminded me a lot of a similar muddled film, the Robert De Niro drama/comedy THE FAMILY (2013), which comes as no surprise because screenwriter Luc Besson wrote both movies. After seeing both of these films, I think Besson needs to work on his comedic skills. Besson is an experienced writer with lots of credits, however, so maybe he’s just in a mini-slump or something. After all, he wrote the Liam Neeson hit TAKEN (2008). Then again, he wrote its disastrous sequel TAKEN 2 (2012) as well.
3 DAYS TO KILL was directed by McG. I’m sorry, but he sounds like a McDonald’s burger. McG also directed TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009) a film I liked much better than this one. In 3 DAYS TO KILL, McG does capture some picturesque shots of Paris, and he does handle the Kevin Costner action scenes very well, but the trouble is there aren’t enough of them as the movie spends far too much time on the “getting to know his daughter” plot. 3 DAYS TO KILL would have been much better had it jettisoned its teenage daughter subplot, built up the Amber Heard character, and given the villains something to do.
Kevin Costner acquits himself well as the aging assassin/CIA agent, and Amber Heard in spite of playing a poorly written character is still Amber Heard.
I give it two knives.
(Screaming erupts from all around MA.)
VOICE: It’s the Bunny!
(MA turns to see people fleeing from a person in a fluffy white Bunny costume.)
MA: You have got to be kidding me.
(BUNNY pulls out a sharp carrot and starts waving it at people.)
MA: Hey! Hey, you, Bunny! What’s your problem?
(BUNNY stops and points to himself.)
MA: Yeah, you. Do you see any other Bunnies around? What the hell are you doing? Knock it off!
(BUNNY stares down MA.)
MA: I’m about to be attacked by a Bunny. I’ll never live this down.
(Cell phone rings.) Hello? Yeah, he’s standing right here. Any ideas? Okay, that’ll work. She wants to talk to you. (Hands cell phone to the Bunny.)
(The BUNNY puts the phone to its ear. There is a huge explosion, and the Bunny is blown to bits.)
MA: Well, we were due for an explosive ending. See you all next week when L.L. Soares returns, and he and I review another new movie.
(MA exits café as BUNNY body parts fall from the sky.)