Relativity Media via Everett Collection
It's easy to compare 3 Days to Kill to Luc Besson's flagship franchise Taken. The film itself practically encourages those comparisons, what with the older man who reluctantly returns to a life of killing for the good of his daughter. The hero's quest of hunting down international criminals in a stunning foreign locale is punctuated by all of the explosions and gore your heart could desire. Neither 3 Days screenwriter Besson nor director McG are attempting to blaze a trail or reinvent a wheel. They're simply attempting to create a film that will keep you entertained for two hours, and on that front, at least, they succeed.
Stepping into the Liam Neeson role this time around is Kevin Costner as Ethan Renner, who is either an assasssin or a spy that works for either the CIA or the Secret Service (it's not really all that important in the end), forced to walk away from the job after he is diagnosed with cancer (or maybe a brain tumor). In an attempt to spend his remaining months bonding with his estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), he moves to Paris to settle down. Of course, that's when Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA agent/spy/assassin arrives, along with an experimental new drug that could extend Ethan's life, which she will happily pass along... if he takes out their two most wanted criminals within three days.
From there, the film veers wildly between graphic fight sequences, with enough chaos and destruction to equal both Taken movies, and the story of Ethan and Zoey’s growing relationship. Much of the plot is confusing and barely explained – Ethan and Vivi vaguely work for the CIA, although they're unconcerned by the devastating destruction they leave in their wake. The drug is “experimental,” but how it helps or why it’s only available through a giant purple syringe is waived away by the presence of a stack of “research.” Ethan only has three days to complete his mission, but seems to hang around Paris for a lot longer. The villains are wanted by the government for being tangentially involved with a “dirty bomb.” There's a shoehorned-in subplot about family of African immigrants squatting in Ethan's apartment. But despite the fact that so many of these elements never find a way to coalesce into a coherent whole, once the body count starts to rise and the buildings start to fall, it's easy to simply ignore all of that in favor of massive explosions.
When the film works, Ethan's job and his relationship with Zoey blend together in a way that gives 3 Days to Kill some much needed heart and humor — like when he's interrupted in torturing a target by her constant phone calls — but when it doesn’t, the transitions between Ethan taking out the criminals he's hunting and his slightly cloying bonding experience with Zoey can be jarring. As Ethan, Costner is a serviceable action hero; he growls threateningly and stares fondly at Steinfeld when the script calls for it, but for the most part, he appears to be phoning it in. Of course, for this kind of film, that’s all he really needs to do, but it means that by the time the credits roll, much of his performance is already forgotten. As Zoey, Steinfeld does her best with the material, and makes some of the more emotional scenes between herself and Costner affecting. However, even she can’t save the father-daughter plot of the film from becoming trite and stale at times, and so her scenes mostly feel like a quick breather in between the rounds of graphic violence.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
Heard feels out-of-place as Vivi, who is introduced as the buttoned-down second-in-command to the head of the CIA, but then proceeds to spend the rest of the film speeding around Paris in sports cars, and prancing about in a wardrobe of leather, corsets, and high heels. Costner is clearly in an older-man action film, but Heard is in another film entirely, one in which she’s a sexy super spy single-handedly taking down international criminals. Despite the fact that she’s mostly there to provide exposition and to look pretty, there are moments where you almost wish that she was the focus of 3 Days to Kill instead — or, at the very least, that one of the many subplots had been dropped in favor of expanding her character.
And yet, despite all of the unanswered questions and the weird disparities in tone, 3 Days to Kill is a surprisingly entertaining film. The fact that one of the best fight sequences in the film takes place in a supermarket, while Ethan and an unnamed hitman grapple behind a deli counter, means that it's ridiculous enough to keep you engaged, but it's still able to amp up the tension when it needs to. And when you need a break from watching people come perilously close to being decapitated, there's a well-timed visual gag already lined up. It hits all of the notes required of a cheesy action film, and even though it gets far too bogged down in sentiment at times, it's still got enough heart to add a little substance to the flimsy plot.
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3 Days to Kill does exactly what it needs to, and little more. It doesn't want to make you think — in fact, it actively encourages you not to — and it doesn't try to accomplish anything that will stay with you after the credits have rolled. All 3 Days to Kill wants is to keep you amused for a few hours, with a few explosions and some mindless fun. In the end, that's sometimes that's all you really need out of a movie.
Of course this is the first time this story has gotten the full cinematic treatment. The basics are there: A young Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) immaculately conceives the son of God after being visited by an angel and she and her husband Joseph (Oscar Issac) make a long trek to Bethlehem on a donkey. She then gives birth to Jesus in a manger under the star of David surrounded by the animals the shepherds and of course the three wise men. But The Nativity Story goes much deeper than that. It paints a picture of the times where the Jews are continually persecuted by King Herod (Ciaran Hinds) a man ultra-paranoid about the foretold prophecy that a Messiah will take over his rule. It details how Mary has to face her family her new husband--and especially the suspicious villagers--who don’t believe her story on how she became pregnant. There’s also Mary’s cousin Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who gives birth to John the Baptist even though she is way past her prime. Even the three Magi get some face time. Through their calculations they see that three planets will align themselves for the first time in 3 000 years to form one shining star and under it the new Messiah will be born. The rest as they say is history. Everyone seems to hold up their end of the bargain nicely especially Castle-Hughes. In playing the Holy Mother--a daunting task to say the least--the young actress does so with a quiet grace her forlorn face changing to one of peaceful joy once her mission has been handed down. She proves it wasn’t just a fluke she got nominated for Best Actress for her unbelievably heartbreaking performance in Whale Rider. Newcomer Isaac also turns in a worthy performance as the slightly older Joseph a kind-hearted carpenter who after having his own vision stands by Mary the woman he clearly adores. Still through Isaac you can see some of the pain Joseph must have gone through knowing the baby wasn’t exactly his. And any comic relief in The Nativity Story has to come from the three wise men: Melachior (Nadim Sawalha) Balthasar (Eriq Ebouaney) and Gaspar (Stefan Kalipha). Their constant bickering and complaining while on their long journey makes for some lighthearted moments. The always elegant Oscar-nominee Aghdashloo however doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. I guess the story of John the Baptist will have to be a movie on its own. What’s really amazing about The Nativity Story is that it comes from director Catherine Hardwicke the same person who gave us the horrifying teen drama Thirteen and the laidback skateboarding flick Lords of Dogtown--talk about trying something different! Hardwicke is a capable director no question. Filming mostly in Southern Italy and Morocco she is meticulous about giving Nativity an authentic look and feel even bringing in archeologists to help recreate the time. The main problem is in Hardwicke’s attempts to create a cinematic experience around the birth of Jesus Christ. Although certainly a step above a short biblical film you might watch in Sunday school Nativity still has some of those sensibilities heavy-handed in places it doesn’t need to be. The film works much better when it's showing the reality of the situation. But ‘tis the season for such a film and Nativity should surely invoke the true meaning of Christmas for many.