Kevin Costner deserves the comeback he's now going for, and if you watch the preposterous CIA potboiler 3 Days to Kill, forget about the movie and just focus on the actor, and you'll see why. The comeback really started, I think, in 2010, when he landed a key supporting role in the hard-times economic drama The Company Men. Playing a hard-bitten construction worker with a chip on his shoulder about pampered corporate guys who lose their jobs (like, say, the movie's hero, played by Ben Affleck), Costner, who really looked like he'd gone to seed (paunch, jowls, thinning hair shorn down to an unflattering buzz cut), used that look and his weary-wise contempt to communicate what a lifetime of honest hard labor can do to a man. It was a tough little gem of a performance. In 3 Days to Kill, he is back in fighting form. Lean and tapered, he looks like he's been to the hair specialist, and he has basically returned to being a creased version of his old handsome self. He's 59 now, and whatever it took, it's good to have that Costner back. Now he just has to find a movie worthy of him.
3 Days to Kill was directed by McG, the smash-and-grab post-MTV dazzle junkie who made the Charlie's Angels films (both of which I liked) and hasn't done much of note since, but the movie is based on a story by Luc Besson (who wrote the script with Adi Hasak), and it's full of that French filmmaker's froufrou pulp sensibility. (He's Godard crossed with Michael Bay.) The Costner character, Ethan Renner, is a veteran field operative who finds himself in Paris, where he's tapped by a mysterious super-agent named Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) to identify and help assassinate an international marketer of terrorist weapons. The gorgeous Heard shows up in platinum-blonde hair, seamed stockings, and shiny red lipstick, teasing Costner like a dominatrix with a secret crush on him. She might as well be playing one of those post-Tarantino vamp fatales (the wigs! the attitude!) who kept popping up in bad indie noirs in the late '90s.
By this point, you think you more or less know what sort of formula 3 Days to Kill is peddling, but the movie just gets worse. Ethan, it turns out, has a teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) who he reunites with after having spent most of her life ignoring her; an ex-wife he lied to about being in the CIA (that's why they separated); an apartment in Paris that's being occupied by a family of lovable squatters from Mali; and a cold that gives him a persistent cough. Did I mention that he's also suffering from brain cancer and has about three months to live? (Unless the experimental cure that Vivi attempts to bribe him with works.) That's enough extraneous situations to sap the life out of any thriller, and 3 Days to Kill turns out to be an incredibly annoying movie in which Costner, each time he's about to duct-tape some guy's mouth shut, has to stop to answer his cell phone, which rings with Icona Pop's Swedish disco-punk bauble ''I Love It'' (''I! Don't! Care!'') to let him know that his daughter is calling and that he has to take a break from the action to act like a good daddy again. The movie never finds a way to blend the emotional and the rat-a-tat-tat into one seamless package the way that Besson did in his one and only good movie, The Professional (1994).
Costner, grizzled and downbeat, escapes with his gruff charisma intact. He plays each scene as if he meant it, very straight and cool, and with enough vulnerability to show us that he's not hiding behind the macho thrill-kill postures. He's trying to play a real character, and as the Costner comeback continues (next up: He's the general manager of the Cleveland Browns in Ivan Reitman's sports drama Draft Day, due in April), let's hope he gets a chance to play more of them. He's one of the greatest movie stars to arrive after the 1970s, and I'm convinced that he could be great again. But not with his shoe caught in a pile of merde like 3 Days to Kill. C-