Film Review: 3 Days to Kill

Terminally ill spy tries to reunite with his estranged daughter while breaking up an arms deal in a trashy but fun vehicle for Kevin Costner.

The latest middle-aged star to hit the B-movie action circuit, Kevin Costner shows more life than usual in the breezy but farfetched 3 Days to Kill. Fun even when it flails, the project will keep the actor in the public eye before his more ambitious Draft Day opens in April.

Following the Taken template, the plot deals as much with family ties as espionage. Like that film, 3 Days is a product of Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, which means plenty of crisp, well-shot action scenes; a lot of anonymous but hard-working supporting actors; and a bewildering femme fatale in the form of Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA operative trying to catch international bad-guy "The Wolf" (Richard Sammel).

Vivi reaches out to Ethan Renner (Costner), an agency assassin at the end of his career. Long estranged from his wife Tina (Connie Nielsen) and teenage daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld), Ethan learns that he has terminal brain cancer during a mission that lets "The Albino" (Tómas Lemarquis) escape with the parts for a dirty bomb. Vivi blackmails Ethan into tracking down the Albino and the Wolf.

While Ethan tries to reconnect with Zooey, a spoiled high-schooler with abandonment issues, he works his way through the Albino's henchmen—all the while coping with hallucinations brought about by Vivi's experimental anti-brain-cancer drug.

Critics love to complain about Luc Besson, who co-wrote 3 Days with Adi Hasak, and whose personal stamp is all over the project. But Besson knows how the genre works, and how to deliver what fans want. 3 Days may suffer from jarring shifts in tone and several unresolved plot strands, but its action scenes are fast and involving, its locations eye-catching, and its weird tangents—a Malinese squatter giving birth, Ethan confronting a school principal—ultimately worthwhile.

Director McG (This Means War) treats most of the material lightly, bringing more heart to the movie than found in Liam Neeson's Taken turns. Ethan's scenes with Zooey start out awkward and uncomfortable. He teaches her to dance and to ride a bike, and also rescues her from would-be rapists at a neighborhood rave. What daughter wouldn't love him?

Costner—first seen bleary-eyed, coughing, with a ratty stubble—lacks Neeson's grim, relentless drive. But he has the same raffish appeal that he had 20 years ago in The Bodyguard, which lets him slide past the plot holes and absurd twists in 3 Days without getting too dirty.

McG and Besson are smart enough to limit Costner to reasonably realistic action, at least until the climax, which smashes credibility as well as every window in sight. Although the three make an unlikely team, 3 Days to Kill has the feel of a well-tuned sports car.