Decades out from his leading man days, Kevin Costner wears spiritual weariness like a second skin onscreen. Recently, that quality has been put to use in a series of supporting roles, including world-worn mentors to the likes of Clark Kent and Jack Ryan. In McG’s 3 Days to Kill this palpable and soulful exhaustion gives way some of the old Costner matinee energy.

Ironic then, that the film itself is a tone-deaf, awkward mess that is miles below the actor’s maligned bombs like Waterworld and The PostmanLuc Besson, who produced and co-wrote the film, won’t have much to personally write home about—only Amber Heard gets a pass amongst the cast—but Costner can chalk this up as a return to form. By the time we get to Draft Day, the world might be ready for a performance where the actor isn’t wearing a sad half-smile as some sort of career apology.

Lining up Costner as a bone-tired CIA assassin who must continue to kill so that he might evade death another day is a decent enough idea on paper. Giving him a somewhat estranged daughter (Hailee Stanfield) who keeps interrupting his hits with frantic phone-calls for marinara recipes is less inspired, but not a deal-breaker.  When you add in the strained attempts at romantic comedy with Costner’s resigned wife Connie Britton, an apartment full of African squatters that include a precocious kid, and Amber Heard peddling a borderline science fiction premise in her stunning latex pants, you have got too much contrivance  and not nearly enough ambition.

The film is intended to turn on Costner’s Ethan as he arrives at a life/work balance epiphany that’s come too late for him to make good on. Unfortunately, coherence isn’t a strong suit of McG or screenwriters Besson and Adi Hassok, and instead of playing up Costner’s man’s man of action the movie careens from one po-faced comic-strip collision to the next without ever achieving the dizzy verve of The Fifth Element or the B-movie immediacy of the first Taken. The miracle cure to stave off Costner’s terminal brain cancer feels like the mechanism of a televised action pilot, and many of the best scenes are, surprisingly, not the usual French indulgence of Besson but little character moments that would play perfectly fine between commercial breaks.

McG, who did a better  job establishing the trajectory of NBC’s Chuck than he did breaking in franchises with Charlie’s Angels and Terminator: Salvation, may in fact be more reasonably suited to the small screen. There’s nothing particularly cinematic about his approach with 3 Days to Kill, and without the aid of beautiful vistas and/or women, he can barely make a single scene resonate long enough to build the drama. The actors absorb their characters and then emerge again as variations of themselves. With Costner, this incidental side-effect pays off and he charges across the screen as a bemused action hero who can barely believe that he gets to play scenes like the one where he’s willing to threaten the Italian hostage to procure a better sauce recipe for his daughter.

Outside of watching an actor get comfortable in his skin again, there’s nothing much worth mentioning in 3 Days to Kill. It’s a string of played-out moments and lame-brained sitcom antics and the only reason it doesn’t implode is because Costner’s Old Hollywood approach to the job distracts from the dreck. Still, it’s good to see the man back on top, and I can’t recall the last time I emerged from a dud like this with such good news to report.

3 Days to Kill is now playing in wide release.

Grade: C-

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