Kevin Costner would like his share of the Neesoning, please, a chance to warm it up with a little late-middle-age movie star heat. Can’t blame him for that. Who wouldn’t want to be the king of Throat Punch February -- or at least the prince -- instead of letting that tall, Irish badass with “a particular set of skills” hog all the action film glory.
Costner gets a chance to earn it in this McG-directed, Luc Besson-crafted espionage comedy about a hoarse, cancer-stricken, decoratively be-scarved CIA agent named Ethan. He's drafted into One Last Job by fellow agent and professional va-va-vaoomer Vivi Delay (Amber Heard, employing leather pants and sleekly stylized syringes as comic props) with the promise of an experimental cancer drug that will allow him to see Christmas with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and teenage handful of a daughter (Hailee Steinfeld).
To get the life-extending injections Ethan has to go to Paris to take out some dudes named The Wolf and The Albino because of an arms deal and dirty bombs and terrorism. Or something like that. Oh, but wait, he also has to deal with a family of Malian squatters in his apartment and babysit the teen daughter for three days, which necessitates being interrupted in mid-gunfire by her incessant, Icona Pop ringtone and questions about how to make spaghetti sauce for her new French boyfriend. What else can a hitman do but take the call and ask the guy he’s torturing for parenting advice?
So relentless, muscular, taking out of crime-trash isn’t exactly on this movie’s menu. It’s got a mushy center of father-daughter sentimentality that Besson fans will recognize as leftovers first cooked up to tougher effect in Leon. And director McG feels a little unsure of where he stands, as well, having to wrangle the project’s competing forces when what he’d probably really like to do is colorfully execute the hell out of a snowmobile chase down the side of a mountain.
But it’s really Costner who loses. He’d love to be the lethal “cowboy” his Parisian nemeses all accuse him of being, a more laconic version of the guy who took France’s laws into his own hands and snapped their spines in the furious, reactionary Taken. But Neeson’s daughter was conveniently off screen most of the time in that one, helplessly freaking out in the brutal, sex-trafficking hands of very bad men. Here, Costner has to interrupt his own murder renaissance with bike-riding lessons and, uncomfortably enough, slow-dance tutorials to Bread’s 1970 hit “Make It With You.” In attempting to loosen the tight grip of action film patriarchy, the movie succeeds only in emasculating its hero. Throat Punch February would like to know more about this “sensitivity” you keep talking about, but not too much more.