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Movie Review

‘Three Days to Kill’ is fatally flawed

Kevin Costner’s CIA assassin has to battle international thugs while trying to reconcile with his family in McG’s new film.

Julian Torres for the Boston Globe

Kevin Costner’s CIA assassin has to battle international thugs while trying to reconcile with his family in McG’s new film.

Every so often a bad movie will become so mind-bogglingly, existentially bad that it turns perversely good. Unfortunately, “3 Days to Kill” isn’t that bad. It’s just not any good. Too bad.

We begin in sub-par Jason Bourne territory, with a grizzled CIA hitman named Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) on the trail of two international evildoers. One is named The Albino (Tomas Lemarquis). The other is named The Wolf (Richard Sammel). They have a dirty bomb in a suitcase and they like to decapitate CIA agents using runaway elevator cars. Before Ethan can bring them down he collapses with a nosebleed and a nasty cough, which in movies like this means he has brain cancer and only a few months to live.

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Cut to Paris, where Ethan has quit the agency and is trying to mend fences with his ex-wife Tina (Connie Nielsen) and disaffected teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). But wait: Here’s his CIA handler Vivi (Amber Heard) — her fashion sense is light bondage and she changes hair color from scene to scene — with an offer. If Ethan can find The Wolf and kill him, he’ll get a lifetime supply of an experimental CIA brain cancer cure, administered by Vivi via a big, scary hypodermic needle. Side effects include hallucinations, increased heart rate, and spasmodic giggling in the audience.

Ethan thus has to whack his way to the villain while simultaneously learning to be a better father. Some of this is mildly humorous, like the scene in which he puts The Wolf’s Italian accountant (Bruno Ricci) — who’s duct-taped to Ethan’s toilet — on the phone with Zoey for advice on making spaghetti sauce.

More often, “3 Days to Kill” is forced and even creepy, as when Dad teaches daughter how to slow-dance to Bread’s “Make It With You.”

Who whelped this mess? The script is by Luc Besson and Adi Hasak; as a director, the former has been exploring the loony-tunes border between criminality and squishy family bonding from “Leon: The Professional” (1994) to “The Family” (2013). The director is McG, who began the new millennium brightly, with “Charlie’s Angels” in 2000, and who’s good at empty action flash, not so much with genuine emotions.

Bruce Willis would have finessed this kind of film like a pro on his way to a paycheck, and Liam Neeson would have barreled through with grim purpose, probably wondering why Ralph Fiennes doesn’t have to do this sort of nonsense. Costner looks most engaged in his scenes with Steinfeld — who’s not as good as she was in “True Grit” and not as terrible as she was in last year’s “Romeo and Juliet” — while handling the action scenes with generic effectiveness.

And, very occasionally, you get a glimmer of the sneaky, subversive wit that enlivened the star’s early performances, way back in “Bull Durham” and “No Way Out.”

“Is Dad a badass?” Zoey asks her mother at one point. Actually, dear, he was. But that was a long time ago.

Ty Burr can be reached at ty.burr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.
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