This movie review was originally commissioned by and written for USA TODAY COLLEGE in the winter of 2014. It was never published there, so it lives on, in full, un-copyedited glory, here. Enjoy. Photo found here.
Ethan Renner’s got problems. He’s too old for his job as a CIA agent; he just botched his last job trying to stop an international arms dealer; he’s got a cough he can’t seem to shake; he’s got a wife and a daughter he hasn’t seen in 10 years. But those problems pale in comparison to the biggest one of all: He’s dying.
Ethan’s (Kevin Costner) cough is really a form of brain cancer that spread to his lungs, and after he fails to apprehend The Albino, an errand boy for The Wolf, an international arms dealer, he ends up in the hospital with a three-month life prognosis. He prepares to get his affairs in order and see his family one last time before he dies. That is, until the CIA comes a-calling.
Vivi (Amber Heard) offers Ethan an experimental drug that the CIA is developing in exchange for one last job- killing the Wolf. He has three days to complete the mission, and potentially add years onto his life.
The only catch is that Ethan has to complete this mission while he is reconnecting with his teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) after ten years on the job, all while concealing the fact that he is on his deathbed. This emotional aspect is what makes “3 Days to Kill” different from other action movies.
Written by Luc Besson (“Taken 2,” “Transporter 2”) and directed by McG (“This Means War,” “Charlie’s Angels”), this film could have easily slid into corny action territory. And it comes dangerously close- a running gag where Ethan keeps asking a target for advice on how to bond with his teenage daughter never really strikes the right tone.
The action scenes are well done, and appropriate for the age group that the film is trying to reach. Think “Taken” with a more lighthearted tone. There’s not much to think about with the action sequences- they’re just fun to watch.
The surprising thing about “3 Days to Kill” is the sympathy it has for its main character. Ethan doesn’t kill if he doesn’t have to, and Costner plays the character like any old father just trying to connect with his daughter. A scene where Ethan teaches Zoey to ride a bike could easily have been in any other dramatic film. The entire reason Ethan almost gets killed in the beginning of the film is because he stepped outside to call Zoey on her birthday. Only an actor like Costner could have struck the right tone between action spy and deadbeat father.
Costner is already shaping up to have a career resurgence at the box office. His step back into the limelight started last summer in “Man of Steel,” and including “3 Days,” he’s slated for five films in 2014. This film seems like Costner’s “Taken”- an action film meant to put him back on the map for a younger audience. But if all of his upcoming efforts are this fun, that’s fine by me.
Verdict: Box Office. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s fun to watch, and Costner more than carries the film.