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’ve been and a thought I had, as I watched the latest from Kevin Costner, just this side of 60, was might Hoffman eventually have made a Taken ripoff too?
Since Liam Neeson reinvigorated his career with the 2008 original when he was just this side of 60, Taken ripoffs have increasingly become a standard career move 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. Costner’s now 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. This: 3 Days to Kill is the weirdest movie he’s ever made. It checks off the Taken boxes but presents as an action film directed my Michel Gondry. You might chalk the Euro nuttiness up to the involvement of wacky producer/co-writer Luc Besson but Besson, remember, was Taken’s producer/co-writer 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 ex Christine (Connie Nielsen), keeping his condition classified. Sound heavy? Guess again. What it lacks in Albanian sex traffickers, the picture makes up in bizarro comic flourishes and heartstring-tugging corn. I’ve seen Lifetime movies with more existential drama.
Renner’s homecoming’s 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 doles out jumbo gold syringes filled with the cure to what ails Ethan in exchange for his eliminating the Wolf (Richard Sammel), a terrorist who’s in town. When her mother leaves Zoey with Ethan while away on business, the girl 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 by 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 in which dad pauses the enhanced interrogation techniques he’s using on the Wolf’s Italian accountant to get his favorite marinara recipe?
The picture’s all over the place and, with its off the wall sensibility, can almost feel like a parody of the 2008 hit in places. Costner’s performance provides an appealing counterweight to the story’s flightiness, however, along with enough good old fashioned movie star magnetism to hold its disparate elements together and make this film 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 hours to kill.