MOVIE REVIEW: ‘3 Days to Kill’ fails to entertain for 2 hours

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First Posted: 2/24/2014

“I’m too big for this,” Zoey Renner (Hailee Steinfeld) advises her father, CIA tough guy Ethan (Kevin Costner). He is teaching her to dance by having her stand on his feet. Zoey is polite. I would have added “too old” and — as soon as the first bars of Bread’s “Make It with You” wafted through the empty, night-kissed Paris apartment — “afraid of being chloroformed.”

Welcome to Luc Besson’s version of normal. The screenwriter/director has turned a father’s devotion to his teenage daughter into something creepy in the “Taken” movies and now in “3 Days to Kill,” a high-octane domestic drama co-written by Besson that is as terrible as it sounds. And it’s offensive and irritating. At least the car chases are OK.

Ethan, dying of cancer, attempts to reconcile with Zoey — and to a lesser extent his ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) in Paris — but a young agency hotshot (Amber Heard, dressing like Lady Gaga for no real reason) recruits him to kill an elusive villain. In exchange, Ethan will get an experimental, volatile drug that could save his life.

“3 Days to Kill” proceeds to zoom and veer as director McG and screenwriters Besson and Adi Hasak juggle two or three different agendas in this almost-movie. But McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) races ahead when he should slow down to establish a rhythm, which leads to a movie constantly battling with itself. The scenes of Ethan on assignment while trying to connect with Zoey are played with a strange solemnity, as if a legion of hitman dads struggles to achieve a work-life balance.

Zaniness and laughs are too much to expect from McG, who unloads thrills and warm-and-fuzzies as entertainment with such rapidity that he can’t even sustain a world of intrigue. Here’s a short sampling: Ethan puts an informant in the trunk of his car and then arrives at a spot only the informant would know. Ethan is chided for killing a man with a moustache, something not mentioned during his briefing. And given Ethan’s occupation, shouldn’t he know his daughter is dating someone whose father has sinister ties?

The great concern here, as in Besson’s recent projects, is that a regretful loner connects with his teenage daughter in a way that would mortify Sophocles. A father isn’t just emotional support, but the dashing rescuer, a handsome badass who will crack skulls to save his not-so little girl. (Mom? Who’s mom?) The daughter, played by a consenting adult (Steinfeld turns 18 in December), serves as a damsel in distress, giving her father’s fervent devotion a fetishist vibe. The bonding of father and daughter over little girl events — riding on a carousel, learning how to ride a bike — casts a disturbing pall.

No one in “3 Days to Kill” raises a fuss over this because they’re tokens: the rebellious, resentful, teenage daughter; the perpetually annoyed busy businesswoman; the emotionally distant dad. That makes any attempt at establishing a family drama pointless, and the shuffling of characters between the espionage and family fronts prohibits Costner — the movie’s emotional center — from connecting with anyone. Every character is a transition to the next round of glossy, genre-blending stupidity involving sexist emotions and gunplay. What an unpleasant experience “3 Days to Kill” is. It’s fun spelled with a capital, bold-faced “F” and “U.”

Rating: W

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