Euro-action series runs out of gas in third lap
Directed by Olivier Megaton
Cast: Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, Robert Knepper
The fact that Transporter 3 is directed by a guy named Olivier Megaton bears repeating. Not only is this guy French, he’s a former graffiti artist and has voluntarily rechristened himself after a high-yield nuclear device. That should give you a fairly clear idea of Transporter 3’s caliber. It’s the bomb, baby! ... If you’re into loud, frantic and aggressively unsubtle cinema, that is.
Picking up where the paper-thin story of the first two Transporter films left off, we join our hero loafing around southern France. In case you forgot the premise, or can’t work it out from the title, Brit bruiser Jason Statham is Frank Martin, a wheelman for hire who will drive anywhere, anytime ... for a price. This time around, he’s contracted (threatened, mostly) into putting the pedal to the metal from Marseille to Kiev. Taking up the passenger seat in this soon-to-be-violent road rally is a sullen Ukrainian party girl played by new gal in town Natalya Rudakova (whose explosion of facial freckles is either weird or cute or weirdly cute). To complicate matters, both Frank and his passenger have been fitted with explosive wrist bracelets that will detonate if they wander more than 100 feet from the car. And just to keep the action pumping, Frank’s untrustworthy employer (Robert Knepper, milking his “Prison Break” villainy for all it’s worth) sends assorted goons to attack him every few miles along the route.
Now, you’d think this ungodly complicated setup of fitting a driver with an explosive bracelet, tracking him via hijacked military satellites, sending him on a GPS-guided goose chase across Europe and frequently hampering his progress with roadside kung fu fights would be the result of some massive, hard-to-explain international scheme. Not really. Our villain, the imaginatively named Mr. Johnson, has kidnapped our damsel in distress in order to blackmail her diplomat father into allowing a bunch of toxic waste into his country. Seems like Johnson could have simply tied his victim up in a hotel room for a week or so—but noooo, he had to come up with this crazy plan of driving her across all of Europe in some violent version of The Great Gumball Rally. ... Movie villains. So freaking stupid.
Of course, nobody signs up for a Transporter film for the plot intricacies. Original scripters Luc Besson (The Professional) and Robert Mark Kamen (The Karate Kid) are on board again. To their credit, they haven’t come up with anything as ludicrous as Transporter 2’s midair automotive 360. (Screw you, laws of physics!) Even so, nobody’s really trying very hard here. The chase scenes are repetitive and the martial arts fights, once again, find our budget-conscious James Bond stripping to the waist to battle baddies with his jacket. Statham’s a charismatic dude and appears to take all this action hero stuff with a grain of salt. His tongue-in-cheek over-the-topitude is what keeps films like Crank buoyant. But in Transporter 3, he’s clearly exhibiting signs of boredom. (After appearances in War, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and Death Race, who could blame him?)
The Transporter series is a clear case of diminishing returns. The first was a perfectly dumb-fun outing directed by Hong Kong fight choreographer Corey Yuen (whose career dates back to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury). For the second, we got Besson’s fellow Frenchy Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) behind the camera. This time, we’re downgraded to Monsieur Megaton, who gives us those flashy, edit-heavy scene transitions so popular in ’80s music videos. Given what little he’s got to work with, though, maybe we can’t blame him for the uninspired job he’s done here.
A lot of action films have been coming out of Europe lately (Hitman, Unleashed, District B13, Babylon A.D.). They’re like American action films, except the furniture’s nicer and there’s more techno on the soundtrack. Transporter 3 fills that bill at least, providing plenty of dunderheaded plotting, some intermittent ass-kicking and the occasional subtitle. Quelle surprise!