' ' Cinema Romantico: 3 Days To Kill

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

3 Days To Kill

The first ten minutes of McG’s “3 Days to Kill” is your standard hodgepodge of action movie what-have-ya. Gunfire and explosions and mysterious briefcases and purposeful striding through hotel hallways and a man – Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), CIA cleaner – who has to call his daughter for her birthday in the midst of all this action movie what-have-ya because, well, I think it increases “the stakes”. Then Ethan has a coughing fit and starts seeing blurry and collapses and the bad guy gets away and he finds out he has brain cancer with a diagnosis of three months to live, and all that action movie what-have-ya ends up seeming pretty pointless. So he decides to re-win the affection of the daughter, Zooey (Hallee Steinfeld), whom he never sees. But then a Vixenish CIA handler with the aromatic moniker Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) approaches with government-approved proposal – she can keep him alive with an experimental drug (that requires swigs of vodka to maintain balance) so long as he rubs a few bad dudes out.

What follows is high-octane trash, director McG garnering a crucial assist from his screenwriter, French auteur Luc Besson (co-writer: Adi Hasak), a man who as evinced by the phenomenal “Lucy” knows how to blend the ludicrous with the sublime. And in spite of a third-act wrap-up that unfortunately just doesn’t bounce as aggressively off the wall as the rest of the film, it is subtle high comedy. It’s particularly inspired when mixing parallel ideas of schmaltzy domestic drama and hardenered thriller, such as a devilishly awkward moment when Ethan forces the Italian man he is torturing to give his daughter a pasta recipe over the phone. Family first. It is less successful in its more traditional sequences of ferreting out bad men walled off behind reams of bodyguards and in-broad-daylight car chases, all which feel worn to the nub. Not for nothing is the most invigorating transportation sequence not a car chase but a saddened Ethan riding the purple bicycle his daughter has rejected as a gift because, like, seriously, it’s purple and she’s way too old for a purple bike, man.

Even better are the scenes of Vivi squiring Ethan to and fro in her no doubt Langley-approved hot rod, specifically because she’s not trying to outrun anybody, she’s turning and burning just because she can, which is pretty much the movie’s entire modus operandi. Plot-wise, I’d struggle to tell you all that was happening. The primary objective, as I hazily recall, was something along the lines of nabbing some uber-bad dude called The Wolf or The Albino or The Butcher or The Baker or The Candlestick Maker. That’s irrelevant.

Late in the film when Vivi orders Ethan to wear a “disguise”, he simply removes his scarf and jacket and jeans and slips into a suit. That’s it. That’s his whole cover. A suit. He’s recognized in about four seconds. Because it’s not about being in “disguise”, you see, it’s about being en vogue. Which is what Vivi grasps and which is why Vivi is the one who orders him to wear it. She spends her majority of screen time donning an assortment of wigs for no real reason other than to don an assortment of wigs. On “Alias” Jennifer Garner’s Sidney Bristow was always donning wigs to ostensibly aid in her various spying shenanigans when the real motivation was to have Jennifer Garner don an assortment of wigs. “3 Days to Kill” is just entirely up front about it, portraying the Spy Game as an International Parlor Game.

In a way, this whole story seems to be for the amusement of Vivi. Costner, with a few extra rocks of gravel in his voice, plays the part with a decided bedraggledness that feels less like brain cancer than a lifer employee desperately eyeing retirement. And Heard, who is all wickedly tickled smiles, feels less like a CIA handler than a femme fatale as puppetmaster, which, hey, for all we know is exactly the job description of actual CIA handlers. Consider the theoretically dramatic conclusion in which Ethan comes face to face with The Wolf or The Albino or The Butcher or The Baker or The Candlestick Maker. Suddenly, Vivi is just there, as if she had been hiding in the shadows, orchestrating the entire ordeal via chic headset, and exhorts Ethan to kill the bad dude. He defers out of ethical obligation and so she puts a slug in the bad dude’s brain. (Spoiler alert!) It’s like she had him to do all the leg work so she could disappear for large swaths of time to hit up Parisian dance clubs.

The closing shot involves Vivi standing atop a windswept hill, looking down on the beachfront property where Ethan and his family have gone for R & R, and while it is intended as something of a happy ending, and is, the subtext is both slightly voyeuristic – the CIA also keeps watch – and subtly satirical. The funniest concept in the entire film is, in fact, the one from which it springs - that is, the new-fangly medication that keeps Ethan alive, and that Vivi has chosen to give her charge even after his service is up. I mean, if the government does has a cure for cancer, you don't really think they'd tell us, do you?


Derek Armstrong said...

Now that's what I call synergy: We both did write-ups on 3 Days to Kill on September 30th, and we both spoiled the ending. You, however, seemed to have liked it a little bit more (a lot more?) than I did.

Derek Armstrong said...

Um, I don't mean synergy. I mean syzygy. That has to do with the alignment of planets. For a guy who considers himself to have a good vocabulary, it's amazing to me how often I use simple words incorrectly.