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.
When it was announced that writer/director Lynne Ramsey was joining forces with Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman on the Western Jane Got a Gun, the project sounded like stars aligning. It got better: cast opposite of the Black Swan star was the reliable, mesmerizing Michael Fassbender. As the film trekked forward towards the beginning of its shoot, it continued to gain prestigious additions, including a villain in the form of Zero Dark Thirty's Joel Edgerton. It sounded incredible.
And then it imploded.
Last week, Fassbender departed the film, a mere week before cameras were set to begin rolling. He was quickly replaced by Edgerton, who bumped up to the starring role opposite Portman, with Jude Law jumping on board as the film's villain (Edgerton's original role). Then on May 19 — what was going to be the first day of shooting — news broke that Ramsey had left the project, never arriving to set. With money invested, sets built, and production as underway as it could be without a person in the director's chair, producers on Jane Got a Gunscrambled to find a replacement. The ship wasn't going down, even if the captain had bailed.
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Now the hopeful upswing in the debacle: in less than 24 hours, a replacement for Ramsey has been found. Deadline reports that Warrior director Gavin O'Connor has been hired to helm the picture. There have been casualties by the switch: after O'Connor was revealed to be on board, Law was announced to have left the film, his involvement originally linked to the idea of working with Ramsay. But Edgerton and Portman (a producer on the female revenge flick) are still on board.
This isn't the first time a high-profile movie has suffered from talent shuffling — but it might be the instance closest to the wire. In 2010, after two years of working on both the scripts and designs for The Hobbit movies, director Guillermo Del Toro picked up and left New Zealand, paving the way for last December's Peter Jackson-helmed epic. Del Toro has never explained his decision, suggesting that multiple factors influenced his decision to exit the movie — many pointed to MGM's ongoing financial issues. In less analytical departures, X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn was two weeks away from directing 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand before bailing on the film due to creative clashes with 20th Century Fox. For some, having their vision represented is more important than avoiding a public frenzy.
Sometimes it's not even up to the directors. Steven Soderbergh was removed from his version of Moneyball days before shooting the Brad Pitt-led baseball drama. It was another case of the men with the money not seeing eye to eye with their director's vision: Soderbergh wanted a docudrama version of Moneyball that would intercut Pitt's performance with documentary footage. The idea didn't jive with Sony Pictures, who replaced Soderbergh with Bennett Miller.
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Ramsey penned the script for Jane Got a Gun, and it's possible that, even when the dust settles from the fiasco, she'll walk away with accolades for the film. The same thing happened to director Brenda Chapman, removed from the director's chair by Pixar halfway through her work on Brave. She ended up receiving a "co-director" credit — a title that earned her an Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2013 Academy Awards.
As is apparent from Jane's bumpy road to completion, actors are also capable of derailing a movie and sending behind-the-scenes players scrambling for replacements. Jean Claude Van Damme was set to play the title creature in Predator before ditching the movie last minute. He wasn't keen on the requirements of the role, which included wearing a bulky costume and remaining invisible for half the film. Eric Stoltz was infamously replaced by Michael J. Fox weeks into shooting Back to the Future after Fox (the original choice for the role) became available. And most recently, Peter Jackson, unhappy with actor Stuart Townsend's work as Aragon in Lord of the Rings, kindly asked the thespian to step down, eventually hiring Viggo Mortensen for the part.
On-set shuffling isn't a common occurrence in Hollywood, but it's not a sign of disaster either. A film can go both ways: X-Men: The Last Stand, helmed by back-up director Brett Ratner, is looked down upon as a low point in the franchise. Moneyball went on to earn a handful of Oscar nominations. O'Connor is a competent director who impressed (and earned box office cred) with Warrior. Having most recently directed the pilot for The Americans, he knows a thing or two about stepping into someone else's sandbox and building a great castle. If Jane Got a Gun was going to be strong with Ramsey in the driver's seat, it was going to be strong for a number of reasons beyond her directorial efforts (although it sounded promising in the hands of the visually-inclined auteur). Is Jane destined for disaster? Only if they never roll camera.
Which, if the set spontaneously combusts in an act of Godly smiting, could very well be the case.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Evan Agostini/AP Photo]
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