If nothing else, the new movie "3 Days to Kill" demonstrates once again that filmmakers should be grateful for the mere existence, as well as the checkered history, of the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA provides the subject for countless thrillers, and in the future no doubt will continue to attract the interest of directors and producers. Its dubious reputation for destabilizing foreign governments, spying on American citizens, conducting assassinations, and, most recently, torturing prisoners allows for a measure of ambiguity in Hollywood's treatment of the agency.
Though possibly anchored in fact, the latest movie to show some of the work of the CIA, "3 Days to Kill," no doubt diverges drastically from authenticity in many areas of its action. It begins soberly enough, with a prim, businesslike young woman named Vivian Delay (Amber Heard) accepting a mission from her bosses at the agency to snatch a dirty bomb from a villain called The Wolf (Richard Sammel) and eliminate him and his sidekick, The Albino (TómasLemarquis). To accomplish that task she employs a veteran agent, Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), with a record of success in dispatching targets.
Predictably, after that simple act, everything, in the great Hollywood tradition, explodes into violence. Renner and his colleagues attempt to nail both Wolf and Albino in Belgrade, but find themselves in a fierce firefight, resulting in a number of casualties, one of them Renner. Recovering from his wounds in the hospital, Renner learns that he suffers from inoperable brain cancer, which has spread to his lungs. The doctor informs him that he has three to five months to live and thanks him for his service to the agency.
Renner's diagnosis, a situation right out of dozens of weepies, ironically creates an opportunity for him and Vivian to continue the mission against Wolf and Albino. He travels to Paris to attempt a reconciliation with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) in the short time that remains for him. Promising him a bonus and an experimental medicine that may save him, Vivian recruits him once again in the quest to terminate Wolf and Albino.
From that point the movie alternates between Renner's uneasy relationship with his family and his many violent encounters with his adversaries. He shoots at least a dozen bad guys, beats up several more, and tortures a couple of their generally harmless employees, binding them in yards of duct tape, which he also uses to inflict a good deal of pain. In keeping with current cinematic practice, he also engages in a number of public shootouts, in busy streets and crowded ballrooms, and several frantic automobile chases through the busy streets of Paris -- with never a cop in sight.
An often underrated actor, Kevin Costner performs confidently as Ethan Renner, handling some offhand humor as well as indulging in the predictable physical violence, which now and then descends into a kind of sadism. Probably the best athlete in Hollywood -- check out his baseball prowess in several films, his golf in "Tin Cup," and his tennis in "Revenge" -- he uses his physical ability and understated style to create for himself that comfortable persona of so many of our great male stars. It's a kind of easy, relaxed American masculinity, a quality he shares with actors like Burt Lancaster, Jimmy Stewart, and his contemporary, Harrison Ford.
Aside from the patent absurdity and exaggeration of all that action and the stereotypical sentimentality of the emotional part of the narrative, "3 Days to Kill" (a nicely ambiguous title) actually provides a quite satisfying level of entertainment. It mixes its excitement with some witty dialogue and some engaging characters; following the great tradition of the thriller, it now and then employs some characteristic moments of metamorphosis. Vivian Delay, for example, opens the picture as a buttoned-up professional, but turns up later as a coldblooded sexpot in a variety of wigs and provocative costumes, a genuine femme fatale.
The director, Joseph McGinty Nichol, who calls himself McG, handles all the mayhem with the familiar Hollywood slickness and certainly captures the lovely reality of the Parisian locations, despoiled only by the car crashes, broken glass, and blood. All of that works well, without even a traffic ticket from the Parisian police.