Last week when Akiva Goldsman dropped the insanely incomprehensible, pandering, and terribly uneasy Winter’s Tale, I thought the race for most alarmingly misguided and terrible studio project of the year was over early on. Fast forward to less than a week later when I am watching the alarmingly misguided, horribly directed, astoundingly racist, and insanely incomprehensible McG/Luc Besson/Kevin Costner team-up 3 Days to Kill to nearly blow it out of the water. While certainly not as much of a head scratcher in terms of plotting, 3 Days to Kill manages to be worse that this year’s already intensely low water mark by not having a single original, thoughtful, or unironic bone in its body. If you like this film, chances are it’s because you are laughing at it rather than with it, and if that’s your thing, by all means go for it. It still sucks even on those terms. At least Winter’s Tale has conviction to its silliness. This is just crass, useless trash.
Kevin Costner plays Ethan Renner, a mid-level CIA assassin who after botching a job trying to ensnare a pair of nuclear arms dealers (one named The Albino, because duh, and the other The Wolf, because why not?) learns that he has brain and lung cancer. He’s given 3 to 5 months to live, so I guess the title is there to suggest a sense of non-existent urgency and because you just can’t call an action movie 3 to 5 Months to Go Around and Do Some Stuff. He decides to use this time to reconnect with the teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) he has been neglecting in Paris (because why would a Besson film take place anywhere else?). Upon his arrival, he’s stopped by a CIA spook/femme fatale (Amber Heard, who’s only there to smoke and vamp it up) who offers him an experimental drug (that induces hallucinations that only vodka can keep under control) that could prolong his life if he simply agrees to finish the job he bungled in the first place. But he kept a promise to his ex-wife that he still has feelings for (Connie Nielsen) that he would stop working and his daughter doesn’t know that he’s a spy OR that he’s dying? What’s a recovering bad father to do?!?
First off, before I get too angry to even finish writing this review, let me just state the film’s biggest positive: Costner. As an action hero, he’s positively charming, affable, and likeable. Every second that he’s dispatching bad guys, even in the worst of scenes I kept wishing that he was in a better movie with this same grizzled performance. Even the tired one-liners that he spits (“You guys look like a couppla turds.”) come with a certain degree of world-weary panache that suggest Eastwood in his prime. The guy can still act even when saddled with what has to be the stupidest character he’s played since Message in a Bottle. Even when the film makes him unconvincingly cough through most of his dialogue and succumb to an annoying plot device that oh-so-conveniently forces our hero to collapse and hallucinate whenever he’s mere feet from the bad guys, Costner is still giving it everything he has. The only positive that could come out of this is that someone gives him a chance in this genre with better material to work with.
That’s all for the kindness, but while I have nothing bad to say about the rest of the cast who are merely taking direction, it’s easy to pinpoint how everything went so wrong. It begins with the screenplay from Besson and Adi Hasak which is too lunkheaded to even get clichés right and it ends with McG being so awful of a director that he couldn’t direct his way out of a wet paper bag that has a hole torn in it but he’s too busy flailing around to notice the easiest escape.
The critical pass that Besson has gotten (with the exception of his work on Leon: The Professional, parts of The Fifth Element, and Taken) is inexplicable to me. He’s incompetent, leering, racist, and worst of all, completely unoriginal. There isn’t a single action beat here that doesn’t play out exactly as it has thousands of times before. His story isn’t even remotely a story, but rather a bunch of dust particles with bits of beats that simply crash into one another. All of the oh-so-witty bon mots that people try to defend to me as being “in on the joke” are of the kind that are so tired that they wouldn’t be taken at an old folks home because they actually died in 1987.
But let’s talk about the leering and the racism that makes it impossible on any level for me to like, condone, or find 3 Days to Kill even passable as a “dumb movie” This is a film so full of sexism and testosterone that it’s only a matter of time before some leering teenage bros attempt to rape Ethan’s daughter in a washroom at a rave. (Note: This scene comes after a hilariously ignorant hallucinatory sequence that suggests the only thing second in awfulness to rape that a teen girl can do is get a tattoo.) Of course, super dad (a.k.a. the guy who spent five fucking years not giving a shit about his kid) has to save the day. In the very next scene, his daughter is so ungrateful for saving her perceived virginity that she storms off and informs her dad, who has been carting around a purple bicycle the entire movie as an intended peace offering with his kin, that she doesn’t even know how to ride a bike. The very NEXT scene is Ethan showing his daughter how to ride a bike atop a gorgeously photographed top of a staircase where he wearily tells her there was no good explanation for why he was such a shitty dad, and the whole “I was nearly raped and my dad kicked some ass thing” isn’t ever broached again. Ditto Ethan’s wife, whose mistrust of her ex melts away when she returns from her business trip to seem daddy and daughter dancing together in the kitchen in reconnecting. So moved is she that they fuck in the very next scene (which is almost worth it to watch Neilsen wake up wondering what she just did while Costner nonchalantly sips on a coffee while fully dressed in a suit in bed).
The film is easily 30 minutes too long, and 20 minutes of it comes at the hands of ludicrously uncomfortable racism that does nothing except sit there and be really super racist. Like when Costner returns to his crappy rented apartment only to find that an entire family of homeless black refugees (including a precocious young boy and a pregnant teen) have claimed squatter’s rights over his apartment while he was recovering in the hospital. He’s informed that under Parisian law he’s not only not allowed to kick the squatters out, but that the police won’t do anything about it. So he has a heart to heart talk with the head of the family at gunpoint and tells them to stay away from his shit and then they serve absolutely no purpose except for the little kid, who makes sure no one walks in the bathroom while he’s torturing other ethnic stereotypes, and the pregnant girl who only pops up to give pensive looks and to eventually remind Ethan of what it is to be a dad in the most half assed way possible. What’s the point of any of this? Social commentary? To show that even a racists heart can be softened with the birth of a kid? Seriously, I have not one fucking clue.
BUT WAIT. There’s more. It’s not just one thing that does it. It’s a whole rogue’s gallery of racism that could only make George Zimmerman stand up and say “Fuck yeah, bro.” There’s the Muslim limo driver with connections to the vaguely Aryan terrorists, who only really gets to live because he’s a father and because he’s vaguely cooperative and really level headed when it comes to being tortured with duct tape and jumper cables. There’s a scene where he’s tied up in the trunk when Ethan has to pick up his daughter from school after she punched a classmate in the face. She says it was because she was standing up for her friend, a Pakistani who was being bullied. Mid-thought the Muslim guy in the trunk makes a noise and Costner knocks him out. Hilarious. Even more hilarious when two scenes later his daughter says it was never a bullying thing and she just knocked a girl out for hitting on her boyfriend. Which is essentially the movie saying “We’re not racist, except against some. Wait. Hahahahahaha. Nope. We’re actually racist.”
And now I’m too exhausted to even talk about the next person Ethan takes hostage, an Italian-Jewish stereotype (literally named fucking GUIDO) or the scene where Ethan says he’s eating “Chinese food” but it’s actually sushi, so I’ll just move on to talking about how McG is terrible as a director without even talking about how he’s complacent in the film’s overall reprehensibility.
I’m starting to think that the reason Besson’s films have gotten such a pass from people who should know better is because they are made by people who actually understand how to make an action film, like Olivier Megaton, Pierre Morel, or Louis Leterrier. Even before the film goes down a path that it could never recover from in terms of writing, the opening shootout less than five minutes in is a mishmash of horrid camera angles, staging that in terms of time and space makes no sense, and editing that makes it even harder to follow or care about. It’s a problem that somehow gets rectified as the film goes on by being as bland and unchallenging of an action film as possible. There’s a car chase that does the bare minimum and thinks it can squeak by having one gruesome death and big crash. There are some weak shootouts. There’s a conclusion that doesn’t even have one tenth of the force that an action movie climax should have. This guy just can’t make a film. Not only is he incapable of making a good film, he’s also too terrible to realize he’s making a one this bad.
I’ve never admittedly been a huge fan of McG’s lack of directing abilities, but somehow I have always tried to give Luc Besson the benefit of the doubt, and after tripe like Lockout, The Family, Columbiana, From Paris with Love, and those dreadful Taxi and Arthur and the Invisibles films, this really is the last straw. This film is worse than all of those combined. I haven’t felt this uncomfortable about something trying this hard to be likeable in a long time. I can’t defend the guy anymore, and should his name ever come up in some kind of defense or someone should try to pull me into an argument about his merits I will simply cite this movie and walk away. Then if that person tries to defend this film to me, I will cover my ears like a petulant child because I don’t want to know that deep down they might be a terrible person. It’s not an argument I want to have after I have made my feelings abundantly clear. I’m done with this movie. I quit. It’s the lowest point in one of the worst starts to any year in film history.