Work can be such a killer.
Take Ethan Renner's job, for example. He's a pretty great employee, sure—one of the best. For 32 years, he's worked diligently for the CIA and has shown a talent for making a (quite literal) killing. Oh, he's not the cleanest of employees: He leaves some of his job sites littered with bodies. But he's exactly what the CIA looks for in a covert assassin—and he's never taken a sick day in his life.
But it's not exactly a 9-to-5 job, and all the late-night emergencies and occasional bullet wounds have taken a toll on Ethan's family life. His wife barely speaks to him. And he does little more than call his teen daughter, Zoey, every year on her birthday. Frankly, he has a better relationship with his gun.
Then, after a mission goes awry, Ethan gets some very grave news. He has terminal cancer, he's told, and just three months to live. Five, if he's lucky.
Impending death has a way of putting your priorities in order. And while Ethan's been on a first-name basis with death for a while now, this is different. All the years he spent on the job suddenly seem less rewarding somehow, and he heads to Paris to see his wife and kid—to patch things up as best he can. Whatever time he has left, Ethan wants to spend it with them.
Before he can get to work a-patching, though, he's approached by a beautiful and ruthless CIA operative, Vivi, who has one more job for him to do. She wants him to take out notoriously evil weapons dealer Wolfgang Braun—aka The Wolf—and his cadre of collaborators. The carrot? An experimental drug that could prolong Ethan's rapidly dwindling life.
"The question is—kill or die?" Vivi says.
Decisions, decisions …
Ethan is not a good guy. He knows it. We know it. The movie even knows it. But at least he kinda wants to be a good guy. A good husband and father, for starters. And it's that odd dichotomy between his roles as governmental assassin and struggling dad that 3 Days to Kill wants to poke and prod a bit.
When Ethan interrogates the bad guys, for instance, he's more interested in asking for fatherly advice than shocking out evil secrets. And he never fails to pick up one of Zoey's calls—even if he's in the middle of a job. If he's about to kidnap someone, the baddie just has to wait when Zoey calls up and asks to spend a little time with her dad.
And how does Ethan spend that time with Zoey? He teaches her how to dance and ride a bike. He consoles her when her hair misbehaves. And when she sneaks out of the house to go clubbing, he rescues her from trouble and even bothers to reprimand her for disobeying him. He's trying to make up for lost time, and though Zoey's a hard sell (after so many years of neglect, how could she not be?), Ethan works to win her over. When wife Christine sees how hard he's trying, she finds herself softening toward her estranged hubby as well.
The movie doesn't suggest it's easy to reunite after so much time and hurt. This is a long and sometimes painful process, and it doesn't end when 3 Days does. But everyone involved believes it's worth the bother.
Ethan also finds the time to shelter a family of squatters who've taken over his Parisian flat. Though their presence adds a new level of discomfort to his job requirements (it's difficult, for instance, to interrogate someone in the bathroom with little ones in the living room), they eventually reach an understanding. And when the woman gives birth to a new baby, they name her after Ethan.
A question is asked about whether someone is a Muslim.
Vivi comes across as less CIA operative than Bond girl. She dresses provocatively, flirts with Ethan constantly and in one scene holds court in a "high-class" strip club, where two topless dancers (critical body parts obscured by fog or obstructions) make out with each other.
Vivi lets Ethan see up her dress when he's very sick. He responds with, "Am I in hell?" And he rejects all of Vivi's advances, still very much in love with his wife. We later see him kiss Christine passionately; there's an implication that they sleep together again.
While clubbing, Zoey's forced into a men's restroom and surrounded by three guys who suggestively/forcibly touch her leg and the bottom of her skimpy, shoulder-baring dress. (She's saved when her father barges in and starts banging heads.) In another scene, Zoey and her older boyfriend kiss. (We can infer that the two of them might be having sex.)
We see others kiss and make out in a sleazy-looking tattoo parlor. And a naked woman is shown getting a tattoo. (We see her back and part of her backside.)
Somebody cracks a Brokeback Mountain joke.
Ethan's called into the principal's office after Zoey slugs a classmate. "No matter what she has to contend with in life," the principal tells them, "violence is not an acceptable answer."
Well. When they get in his car afterward, Ethan tells his daughter he's proud of her for physically standing up for her friend, and he gives her advice on how to better sock someone. Because in Ethan's line of work, violence is always an acceptable answer.
Need proof? Driving a car, Ethan smashes into another to send it flying off a bridge. (People stagger away or are pulled to safety.) He seems to have a thing for feet, too. He shoots one guy in the foot and stabs another there. He tortures people by ripping duct tape off their bodies and connecting their ear lobes to auto batteries. He stuffs folks in the back of a car (sometimes punching them if they get too loud) and tapes them to things in his bathroom.
Cars crash. A hotel explodes. Shootouts send bystanders running in panic, as do chaotic car chases. An unconscious unfortunate is dragged to an elevator shaft and left to have her head crushed by an oncoming elevator car. Another person is seriously wounded when the elevator he's riding crashes down to the bottom of the shaft. Still another is thrown in front of a speeding metro train. People are beaten badly, tossed into bathroom and kitchen fixtures (leaving them unconscious), pulled from automobiles and heaved off building tops.
People often bear the residue of injury, be they bruises or streaks of blood on their faces. Ethan's cancer medicine is administered via huge hypodermic needle, which we see getting jabbed into his arm. He sometimes bleeds from his nose, staggers around and faints, either because of his cancer or the medicine. (Inconveniently, such episodes always seem to strike when he's running after someone.)
Crude or Profane Language
Two f-words (along with a few more that are suggested and/or nearly uttered), a half-dozen or more s-words and a handful of other bad words, including "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused nearly 10 times (once with the aforementioned "d‑‑n"), and Jesus' name is abused four or five times. Ethan calls some bad guys "turds."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Ethan's medication makes him hallucinate and freak out, particularly when his heart rate is accelerated—side effects that Vivi says can be combatted with shots of vodka. We see Ethan drink straight from the bottle in Christine's flat before he finds himself a glass, and again guzzles from a bottle at a club. He and others drink wine and champagne.
Vivi smokes cigarettes. It's suggested that Zoey was drugged at the club.
Other Negative Elements
Zoey admits that she lies a lot, and we see her do it. Like father, like daughter, it would seem, since Ethan also keeps his share of secrets—not telling Zoey that he's sick, and not confessing to his wife that he's still working for the CIA (a job she desperately wants him to quit).
As Ethan tries to become a better man in the short time he has left, he realizes that promises are important and the time spent with loved ones even more so. We do see growth in the guy, and that's great.
As 3 Days to Kill tries to become a better movie, we can see the effort it makes to keep its curious comedy thriller self at a PG-13 rating. We hear two f-words (instead of, say, 20), we see near-nudity (instead of full), we see unremitting violence and a somewhat stylized high body count (instead of graphic gore).
But the film has more the heart of the pretty-but-ruthless Vivi than the wanna-be-better Ethan. This is a slick, chilly, sometimes nonsensical diversion, meant to pepper audiences with action and violence and sensuality. And it makes no apologies for that. When a snooty principal voices her belief that real-life violence can be influenced by "violent images in popular culture," it doesn't read like a sincere speculation. It feels like a dig at those of us who believe just that.
No one's saying 3 Days to Kill will alone inspire someone to be an assassin or thug, of course. Just that there are far better ways to kill a little time.