DIR: McG • WRI: Adi Hasak, Luc Besson • PRO: Luc Besson, Adi Hasak, Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla • ED: Audrey Simonaud • DOP: Jeremy Cassells, Sébastien Inizan • MUS: Guillaume Roussel • CAST: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld
Occasionally it happens that a film is sold as being one type of movie, and indeed might even initially seem to be that type of film, but gradually as you watch it, the layers peel back and you realise that while you thought you were watching another generic, post-Taken, older-actor-does-some-violence film, you are in fact watching a full-fledged action-comedy that would have starred Arnold Schwarzenegger had it been made twenty years ago.
We open with Vivi (Heard), a very plain-looking CIA operative being tasked with capturing The Wolf (Sammel); a by-the-numbers terrorist/arms-dealer who you know is bad because he has a vague yet menacing Soviet accent and no characterisation beyond that. Cue Ethan Renner (Costner), one of the best and longest-serving agents the CIA has, tasked with doing the busy work on Vivi’s operation. Shootouts ensue, the job goes bad and the bad guy gets away because Ethan collapses at a vital moment. Turns out he has cancer and only a few months to live. So he’s off to Paris to try and reconcile with his estranged wife and daughter before he croaks. But, as is always the case with these things, just when he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in. The Wolf might be in Paris and Vivi wants Ethan to finish the job he started. Vivi who, incidentally, appears to have undergone a personality and design overhaul during the opening credits and is now channelling the dead-eyed lovechild of Catwoman and Black Widow for no other reason than; bossy women with guns, driving fast cars and dressed like high-class prostitutes are so in this season.
Tempting him back into the game with an experimental super-drug (in an over-sized syringe, naturally) that could extend his life (but can also lead to plot-convenient hallucinations unless he drinks vodka), Vivi convinces Ethan to take this last job. And so Ethan’s adventure across Paris begins where: he’ll get into fights in delis without any setup, kidnap and beat up every racial stereotype you can imagine, deal with the wacky hijinks of his (also racially stereotyped) squatters complete with pregnant daughter and high-fiving child, and make appointments with his own daughter but show up late because he was off torturing people. With the big prom looming can Ethan stop the bad guys, save the day and teach his daughter to waltz in time for the big dance? No, you haven’t read that wrong, that is genuinely (some) of the grab-bag muddle of things-that-happen which passes for a plot in this film.
It’s tempting to not even properly review this film and instead just list a variety of the absurd things that happen in it, question how it ever got made and then tell everyone to go see it. As the plot summary demonstrates, there are just so many disparate elements at play in the story that it becomes a tonally jarring mess but one that almost seems to be intentional. There’s one scene where our hero has captured (through a neat little action scene it must be said) one of the film’s many walking stereotypes, this one Sicilian, and is about to begin torturing him for information about the big, bag terrorist, when his daughter calls him asking if he knows any good recipes for pasta sauce as she’s trying to cook a romantic dinner for her boyfriend. He’s about to say no and hang up when he realises the man he’s kidnapped might have a traditional family recipe for pasta sauce, what with him being Sicilian and all. So he asks him. And he does! And suddenly we’re in a scene being played completely for laughs as he threatens this man with a gun while the Sicilian nervously tells Ethan’s daughter how to make his Mamma’s special recipe. Once he’s done, we’re straight back to (off-screen) torture! Absolute nonsense.
Yet, despite the untenable amount of needless additional plot elements, the wildly schizophrenic tone (often over the course of a single scene) and really, the fact the entire film feels like an on-going parody of itself; despite all this it just works somehow. That everyone involved appears to be increasingly in on the joke means it morphs from inadvertent self-parody to weirdly compelling ’80s-throwback, action-comedy. Costner is a perfectly fine addition to the over-50s action-hero stable that the current cinematic landscape has been so obsessed with ever since Liam Neeson murdered his way across Paris. He’s also an excellent comedic presence, delivering all the deadpan humour with clear glee. You need an actor of Costner’s calibre to be able to play both the believable action-hero and the comedy-dad character while somehow finding a coherent through line from within the miasma of inconsistent, contradictory and head-crushing stupidity that the rest of the film is built around.
McG has never been a director destined to set the film-world on fire but he’s a decent action director and this may be one of his better films by quite some margin. The, admittedly inventive, action sequences are numerous enough, but more vitality, short enough that the equally numerous comedy scenes (intentional or otherwise) neatly complement them and hide the director’s many shortcomings that are more evident in his ‘serious’ action films like Terminator Salvation.
It’s difficult to say if this film is ‘good’ because it is, without question, a mess of such proportions that the mind boggles as to how it got made and subsequently released. However, this is also a film that features French characters that all sound like John Cleese in Holy Grail and speak in accents so overly-caricatured that there is a scene where their dialogue is subtitled because, despite speaking in English, their outrageous French accents are so thick that someone editing this film was clearly worried that you wouldn’t be able to understand what they were saying. And that’s pretty incredible.
Thoroughly, whole-heartedly recommended.
12A (See IFCO for details)
3 Days to Kill is released on 20th June 2014