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'3 Days to Kill' is murdered by its own identity crisis

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 6:59 p.m. MDT

Kevin Costner and Connie Nielsen in Kevin Costner and Connie Nielsen in "3 Days to Kill." (Relativity Media)

3 Days to Kill” wants to be an action thriller. It also wants to be a comedy. And if you don't mind, the film would also like to tug at your heartstrings family-drama style.

In individual moments, “3 Days” feels like it would do a decent job at any of the three. But together, the pieces just don’t mesh.

“3 Days” is the second film in as many months to cast Kevin Costner on the spy circuit. Last month, he played Chris Pine’s mysterious CIA mentor in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” Here he plays Ethan Renner, a CIA assassin at the tail end of a 30-year career that has cost him most of his humanity, not to mention his relationship with his wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld).

When Renner finds out he has terminal brain cancer, he decides to give up the spy game for good and try to salvage his family ties. But that effort is barely under way when Renner is approached by Vivi (Amber Heard), the CIA ladder-climber who was in charge of Renner’s last operation. The man they were after — dubbed the "Wolf” — is still at large, and if Renner agrees to track him down, Vivi will give him an experimental drug that might save his life.

Amber Heard and Kevin Costner star in Amber Heard and Kevin Costner star in "3 Days to Kill." (Relativity Media)

From here, “3 Days” becomes an odd juggling act between Costner trying to play the good dad and Costner trying to kill anyone involved with the Wolf, at least until the story lines suddenly merge in a classic stroke of Hollywood convenience. But the tender and whimsical daddy-daughter scenes clash starkly with the scenes of daddy executing the bad guys with cold, brutal efficiency, and you’re left wondering just what kind of movie “3 Days” really wants to be.

At times you wonder if "3 Days" is trying to be "Taken 3," but when you find that Luc Besson is the man behind the story and the screenplay, the intent of the film makes a little more sense. Back in the '90s, Besson directed “Leon: The Professional,” a harsh, violent film that paired an orphan (played by a young Natalie Portman) with a hit man (Jean Reno). The idea was to see the underworld through the innocent eyes of a child, and with “3 Days,” you get the feeling that Steinfeld and Costner are supposed to do the same thing. But director McG can’t nail a consistent tone to sell Besson's product. The violence is too violent, and the comedy is too funny. The result is a film that behaves like it wants to make everyone happy, but instead lets everyone down.

Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld star in Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld star in "3 Days to Kill." (Relativity Media)

Other weak points also undermine the effort. Renner’s cancer is often manifest through hallucinatory coughing fits that always arrive at the worst possible moments. So frequently, in fact, that you wonder why Vivi would trust her mission to such a flawed operative. Yet Vivi is a problem as well. Heard does her best to portray the sexy vixen side of her character, but you can't buy her as Costner's authority figure or the merciless professional that crossed lines he wouldn't cross.

Finally, a few bad overdubs and some obvious post-production fog make it seem like “3 Days” was originally made to be an R-rated film, then scaled back to a PG-13. It may have scored its desired rating, but audiences should keep in mind that its content is pushing the boundary as hard as it can.

Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld star in Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld star in "3 Days to Kill." (Relativity Media)

There are moments in “3 Days” that will make you laugh out loud, and when it isn't trying to melt your heart, it's trying to get it racing. But in the end, you'll be left with a movie that you wish you could like more than you do. And then you’ll forget about it.

“3 Days to Kill” is rated PG-13 for some brutal violence, steady profanity (including uses of the F-word) and some sexual content/borderline nudity.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company