In an alternate universe 3 Days to Kill stars Tim Allen. He’s a workaholic who never spends time with his kid, but then he’s thrust into a situation that forces him to bond with his daughter in a most unusual way. This time, instead of turning into a dog or Santa Claus, he’s a black ops agent with one last assignment to complete, and it just happens to take place on the same weekend he promised to babysit. He depends on his torture subjects for parenting advice and home recipes.
But 3 Days to Kill doesn’t star Tim Allen and it doesn’t come from that particularly shallow era of live-action Disney movies. It comes instead from Luc Besson, who has concocted here yet another high concept, modestly budgeted action thriller that takes itself just a little too seriously. That’s part of the charm: like Taken, Taken 2 and The Family before it, 3 Days to Kill is one of Besson’s patriarchal salvation fantasies, starring an aged but still physically threatening leading man as a professional murderer and amateur dad whose “certain set of skills” either threatens or rescues his family, depending on the needs of the script. Comedy, explosions and apologies for not giving dad enough credit in the first place are meted out in equal measure.
This schtick works most of the time, and 3 Days to Kill is no exception. Director McG, not known for directing particularly good movies, does a particularly good job balancing Kevin Costner’s assignments and his relationships with his estranged but considerate wife Connie Nielson, and his self-absorbed but redeemable teen daughter Hailee Steinfeld. His family is so appealing, in fact, that the only way to illustrate his temptation to go to work is to transform sex goddess Amber Heard, tricked out in one fetish outfit after another with no real explanation as to why, into an elaborate metaphor for a time-consuming day job. By the end of 3 Days to Kill, Kevin Costner looks at her vagina and sees only a lifetime of missed opportunities with his family. Never thought I’d see that in a movie.
The plot is pretty simple: Costner bungles his latest black ops mission due to a previously undiagnosed malignant brain tumor, then drops everything to spend time with his family until Amber Heard asks him to finish the job. In return, she offers him amazing life insurance and health care that includes an experimental anti-cancer injection. That last part is admittedly pretty stupid.
But the premise at least creates a series of comedic set-ups of Kevin Costner juggling murder and domestication, which requires the action to be taken seriously, which McG provides, and requires the characters to behave in such a way that they feel like a real family… except when Kevin Costner says that he loves his wife the same way that he loves his daughter, right before their big sex scene. I never thought I’d see that in a movie either. It’s probably an unintentional allusion to incest, but did we really need an allusion to incest at all?
So the film has weird digressions. Then again that’s what the story is about: Kevin Costner trying to put his home life in order even though car chases and enhanced interrogation techniques get in the way. 3 Days to Kill ultimately shows that fathers who love their family and jobs don’t have to pick one or the other, so long as in the end they prioritize their loved ones. That’s a pretty positive message for an action-thriller, if you can forgive the socio-political vaginas, magical wonder drugs and incest references. I’m inclined to forgive them all. 3 Days to Kill is a very strange but entertaining time killer with strong performances, amusing set pieces and exciting action sequences. And an attempted rape that segues into an adorable bike-riding lesson. Very strange indeed.