Before he made the obnoxiously colorful Charlie’s Angels movies, McG cut his teeth making obnoxiously colorful music videos for the MTV market. For 3 Days to Kill, his first foray outside of the Hollywood studio system, the filmmaker teams up with Luc Besson, who both produced and co-wrote the screenplay. In the vein of other American-style actioners pumped out by Besson’s EuropaCorp production house, most notably Taken, the film casts an aging matinee idol in a plot that’s almost comically generic. A tired-looking Kevin Costner plays Ethan, a grizzled C.I.A. “lifer” diagnosed with brain cancer and given months to live. For his few remaining days on the planet, Ethan returns to the City of Lights, where he intends to patch up his relationship with his wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and daughter, Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld). Obligatorily, a sexy C.I.A. handler, the improbably named Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), pulls Ethan back into One Last Job, promising him a potentially lifesaving experimental drug for his help, just as he’s tasked with three days of babysitting the daughter he barely knows.
As a producer, Besson only answers to himself, and as a prolific screenwriter, he inflects most of his work with an obsession over father-daughter relationships. 3 Days to Kill’s most emotionally resonant scene is a simple montage of Ethan teaching Zooey how to ride a two-wheeler. McG elegantly crunches a life’s worth of regret and sadness into a few minutes, a moment that allows Zooey to cross-examine her father on why he wasn’t there for her growing up. And a scene wherein Ethan saves her from an attempted rape also effectively explores the real-world stresses of parenthood and teenage naïveté, though these emotional beats seem stranded in a script that leans too heavily on jokes that stress their generation gap. By the end, McG may strip down his approach and serve up a variety of slick, well-paced shoot-outs and car chases, but his technical skill can’t quite overcome the story’s lazy sense of humor and incomprehensible account of international espionage, a bunch of funny business about an albino accountant and an arms deal that leaves one with the impression that the script went into production after its first draft.