Kevin Costner is back, big time, with five scheduled releases this year. It’s only February, and this is his second big spies-and-shoot-outs action film of 2014, following Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. This one, from writer Luc Besson and director McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) seems inspired by Liam Neeson’s annual series of middle-aged action films (“Taken,” “Taken 2,” next week’s “Non-Stop”). This will not go down as an especially memorable entry in the filmography of Costner or Besson, but it is a big improvement over Besson’s previous middle-aged star action film, From Paris With Love, with John Travolta, also set in Paris. Costner reminds us why he is a movie star with ease and likability that is a perfect on-screen match for Besson’s trademark mash-up of intense action, gooey sentiment, and goofy comedy.
Costner plays Ethan Renner, a long-time CIA operative. He is not a spy. He is an assassin. He is sent in to kill people, presumably bad guys, and he is very good at it. But when we meet him chasing after a bad guy known as “the albino” and clearly not feeling well. It turns out he has cancer. A doctor tells him to get his affairs in order and crisply thanks him for his service to the CIA.
Ethan returns to his apartment, where a large family of sweet-natured squatters from Africa have moved in and repainted his bedroom. Under the law, squatters cannot be evicted until spring, plus one of them is a young pregnant woman, so he lets them stay. Ethan contacts his estranged-but-n0t-divorced wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen) and his teenaged daughter, Zoey (Halliee Steinfeld) to spend time with them while he can. And then Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA operative who dresses like Lady Gaga, makes him an offer he can’t refuse. If Ethan will take one last job, she will give him an experimental drug that could cure his cancer and give him more time.
Ethan races around Paris, alternately torturing the director of a high-end limo service to get information about the whereabouts of The Albino’s accountant and asking him for parenting tips, giving his daughter lessons in bike-riding and, with the help of that accountant, a recipe for spaghetti sauce, hallucinating due to the effects of the experimental drug and swigging vodka as an antidote, and doing some very bad things to some very bad guys. A lot of it makes no sense, but let’s face it, that’s not why we’re here.
Parents should know that this film has extensive spy-style action peril and violence. A character is an assassin and many other characters are injured and killed with guns, chases, explosions, fights, some disturbing images, mortal illness, drinking, smoking, drugs, some nudity and suggestive dancing, non-explicit childbirth scene, and some strong language.
Family discussion: Is Ethan a good dad? How did the theme of fatherhood come up in different ways throughout this film?
If you like this, try: “The Professional” and “The Transporter”