Like many people who love movies, I've been thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman a lot lately. What astonishing work. His death just this side of 50 left us with so many question marks about roles that might have been. A thought I had as I watched the latest from Kevin Costner, who's just this side of 60, was, Might Hoffman eventually have made a Taken rip-off, too?
Ever since Liam Neeson reinvigorated his career with the 2008 Taken when he, too, was nearly 60, films in that vein have become standard career moves for aging actors. Nicolas Cage — whose career seems perpetually in need of reinvigoration — made his with 2012's Stolen. Mel Gibson made his with 2010's Edge of Darkness. Now Costner has made his. Looking back at Hoffman's performance in Mission: Impossible III, it's easy to envision him tweaking and toying with the trope, something I'd love to have seen.
Seeing Costner channel Neeson isn't on the same order, but there's something to be said for it. Namely, this: 3 Days to Kill is the weirdest movie he's ever made. It checks off the Taken boxes, but it presents as an action film directed by Michel Gondry. You might chalk the Euro nuttiness up to the involvement of wacky producer-cowriter Luc Besson. But Besson, remember, was Taken's producer-cowriter, too.
No, something else is in the water when it comes to the story of Ethan Renner, a CIA assassin informed he has months to live. He moves to Paris to make up for lost time with his teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), and his ex, Christine (Connie Nielsen), keeping his condition classified. Sound heavy? Guess again. What it lacks in Albanian sex traffickers, the picture makes up for in bizarro comic flourishes and heartstring-tugging corn. I've seen Lifetime movies with more convincing existential drama.
Renner's homecoming is naturally contingent on leaving spy life behind. So, just as predictably, he's immediately faced with the need to do One Last Job. Amber Heard plays an agency femme fatale who promises to dole out jumbo gold syringes filled with the cure to what ails Ethan if he will eliminate the Wolf (Richard Sammel), a terrorist who's in town. When Christine leaves Zoey with Ethan and departs on business, Zoey quips, "It looks like we have three days to kill." Little does she know.
What makes the movie a borderline goofball blast is its roulette wheel of tones. One minute, Ethan's teaching Zoey how to ride a purple bicycle beside the Eiffel Tower (the edifice photobombs every other scene). The next, he's yanking duct tape off a henchman's hairy armpits. A tender sequence in which father gives daughter a dancing lesson in preparation for her prom is followed by a brawl in which he turns a bistro's panini press into a deadly weapon.
There are, of course, car chases, shoot-outs, explosions and a parent-principal school conference. Oh, and did I mention the scene where Dad pauses the enhanced interrogation techniques he's using on the Wolf's Italian accountant to get his favorite marinara recipe?
The picture is all over the place; with its off-the-wall sensibility, it sometimes almost feels like a parody of the 2008 hit. Costner's performance provides an appealing counterweight to the story's flightiness, however. He has enough good, old-fashioned movie-star magnetism to hold the film's disparate elements together and make it a better time than it has any right to be. It's totally wacked. Nonetheless, there are dumber things you could do with your dough the next time you have a couple of hours to kill.