Friday, February 21, 2014

In Theaters: "3 Days to a Kill" and "In Secret"

Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld in "3 Days to Kill." Photo from "3 Days to Kill" Facebook page.

MIX a dash of the cheeky humor of a James Bond film, the weariness of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” one sappy storyline, several likable characters, loads of bad guys, and the copious car chases, shootouts and shoot-em-ups that have become de rigueur for action films of the last 15 years or so and … voila! … the recipe for “3 Days to Kill.”

In Kevin Costner's latest film, opening today in U.S. theaters – should this be described as a comeback or simply a return after sporadic sabbaticals? – he is government spook Ethan Renner. Here's a spy who really does want to come in from the cold. (See video below).

Ethan craves a simple life with his heretofore neglected wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). To prove his dedication to the cause, he has agreed to take care of Zoey while Christine takes herself off to London for a job.

Meanwhile, the bad guys are still out there generally menacing society. Only Ethan, of course, can put out of commission a really, really bad, bad guy. Really, really bad, bad guy is a terrorist, of course. Sure, Ethan can have his wish to be with his family, that is if he pulls off one last job for the agency, of course.

Ethan can only have life – literally – if he takes this job, one he'd rather pass on. Conveniently, he has a terminal illness. The one hope for reversal is an experimental drug. This is the carrot that agency bottle-blonde handler Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) dangles in front of Ethan to keep him on the hook. Take the job; get the drug, of course, of course. He has three days to lock this down, hence the title.

“3 Days to Kill” is an action film. To that end, one does not expect sterling dialogue, and one does not get sterling dialogue. Neither should one expect sterling acting, and one does not get sterling acting (it is what it is in what it is) in this effort directed by McG aka Joseph McGinty Nichol, a former video director who rose to real fame on the strength of directing the “Charlie's Angels” films.

Indeed, “3 Days to Kill” is an action film. To that end, the action scenes on the streets of Paris are thrilling and breathtaking, if somewhat familiar. It should be noted that Luc Besson, who knows a thing or thirteen about this business, is a producer of the film. This, no doubt, explains in part its Parisian setting.

Action-film fans have one to love, because this population can't get enough of chases and shootouts. The rest of the moviegoing public should just hold on tight during the loud, bumpy ride.

Oscar Isaac and Elizabeth Olsen in "In Secret." Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Sustaining more than its share of bumps is another one opening today, “In Secret.” It is in English and is the umpteenth remake of Émile Zola's classic novel, Thérèse Raquin. It concerns love, betrayal and murder in a lower-class milieu of 1860s Paris. (See video below).

Jessica Lange takes on the role of Madame Raquin who forces her niece and the heroine, Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen), into marrying the girl's first cousin Camille (Tom Felton). Camille is also the son of the Madame. All is as ill as it is going to be until Therese claps eyes on the painterly Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac), Camille's friend and colleague. Then, all gets worse.

“In Secret” is beautifully photographed by Florian Hoffmeister. The demure lighting often clashes with the action. The film is melodramatic and relies too heavily on silence as dialogue. It is the female characters who are at the center of this work. EO's Thérèse is overly worldly, not the seeming innocent that she should be. One believes, however, that she is quite capable of a malevolent act.

JL, trussed up as a brunette with a severe middle part, puts in a solid performance as the odious aunt. Yet, there are moments when she oversells the evil – there's that melodrama – bringing to mind Faye Dunaway in “Mommie Dearest.” “In Secret” also suffers from slow pacing. Not a good thing when the ending is known.

Here's a one for consumers of the period drama.

“3 Days to Kill” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language; visit to learn more about the film.

“In Secret” is rated R for sexual content and brief violent images; visit to learn more about the film.

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