The recent films of writer-producer Luc Besson (TAKEN, TAKEN 2, THE FAMILY) illustrate a particular formula. Take a no-longer ‘box office’ star of American cinema (Liam Neeson, Robert de Niro), make him a fish out of water in Europe, estranged from his family (it’s the job, honey), give him parenting issues (usually a troublesome teenage daughter), keep the bad guys simple and allow the star to kick butt. Throw in disrespect for Eastern Europe and a comical stooge, someone the star pushes around but is essentially helpful and culminate with an explosive gun fight. A popular song may feature as a ring tone. The film might also include the re-staging of an iconic moment from the star’s back catalogue.
This ‘formule’ is the only thing on the menu in the otherwise forgettable 3 DAYS TO KILL. Here, the no-longer box-office star is Kevin Costner, who has undergone a renaissance on television after the success of his mini-series HATFIELDS AND McCOYS but hasn’t opened a film since SWING VOTE a few years back. He plays a CIA clean-up man, Emmet Renner, who survives a bad job in Belgrade – the exploding Hotel Jugoslavia – to discover that he has an incurable disease. What kind? McGuffinitis, of course, as evidenced by Christian Slater in NYMPHOMANIAC PART I, it causes yelling, passing out and involuntary displays of dental work. Returning to Paris to spend time with his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), whom he has not seen since she was nine, he is recruited by a dominatrix (Amber Heard) for one last job – track down and eliminate The Wolf.
Now I have a theory that there is an elite group of organised criminals who meet up in a seedy nightclub every so often and decide which animal nickname they are going to take. ‘I’m going to be the Jackal – I heard it’s going spare’ and so on. There are obviously plenty of Vultures, the odd Golden Lion, and plenty of Rats. The man who comes in and declares he will be called the Guilty Antelope is shot by his peers because - let’s face it - who wants to be named after a pub? And if you are, why not call yourself The Famous Cock?
Similarly there are a group of seconds-in-command who fight over subordinate nicknames; here it is The Albino. Finally, there are a whole bunch of Accountants because you need to ensure you can clean your cash, perhaps by investing in a dodgy French action movie with dubious artistic merit.
Emmet has to track down the Wolf and if successful will be rewarded by the Needle, that is, a very large syringe that enables him to function like a regular action hero. This being a Luc Besson production, his daughter isn’t pleased to see him and his gift of a purple bicycle doesn’t go down well. It turns out she doesn’t know how to ride it; it is all very well to google the phrase ‘ride a bike’ but it just mentions the euphemism.
Thrillers need ticking bombs, or at least some sort of deadly device. Here it is a dirty bomb that is bound for Syria. The CIA know this yet they can’t find the Wolf – I don’t understand this either.
Emmet teaches his daughter how to ride a bike in a tourist location – as opposed to the road – cue applause from underpaid extras eager to go home. He also schools her in dancing. When his ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) sees this, you are surprised that she does not call the police.
Emmet rescues his daughter from some pestering would-be rapists, who surround her and want to know everything about working with Jeff Bridges in TRUE GRIT. Here, there is a specific visual homage to THE BODYGUARD, when Emmet/Costner affects that lift and that carrying of a vulnerable young woman across a floor.
Now Emmet has problems with some squatters who occupy his apartment in Paris – an African family that has a pregnant woman among them. Emmet agrees to let them stay so long as they stay out of his room, which is full of unlicensed firearms and copies of HAM MONTHLY – well, maybe not the latter. Also, that the cute kid can keep look out!
Emmet eventually tracks down The Driver who is no relation to Bruce Dern because he is too busy on the awards circuit. After some coercing, the Driver leads to the Accountant and squares him for a final confrontation.
A running joke has Emmet sport a cowboy-like scarf; he eventually has to wear a suit. We learn that the role of a good woman is wardrobe advice – now please fix that leaky faucet. Emmet resists the advances of the dominatrix and renews sexual relations with his ex wife; there is no MRS DOUBTFIRE style morality here, nor indeed a Scottish accent.
Emmet feels he has to vet his daughter’s boyfriend, who feels uncomfortable in his company – ‘you were in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT; do they really call your co-star ‘The Pine Box’?’ It ends at a party – typical shoot ‘em up stuff – and Emmet almost passing out on a metro station because those drivers never wait.
I’m not sure whether Costner is in on the joke, but he should know that he is being exploited. He should also ask for better dialogue, with less of the crass stereotyping.
TAKEN really hit a nerve – what would we do to get our children back – but 3 DAYS TO KILL just hits you over the head! It offers spent force trauma. The director is McG, who sounds like a McGuffin and the annoying ring tone periodically blares out, ‘I don’t care.’ You and me both!
Reviewed at AMC 25, New York City (42nd Street), 10:45am screening, Saturday 1 March 2014; rated ‘snore’