Dir: Olivier Megaton. US/UK/France. 2008. 103 mins.
A perfunctory action film which drives around in noisy circles but goes nowhere, Transporter 3 is neither compelling enough nor outlandishly goofy enough to leave much of an impression. Series star Jason Statham supplies ironic cool as the titular tough-guy courier, but first-time director Olivier Megaton shows little grasp for pacing or action-sequence construction.
Transporter 3 opens on November 26 in the US, where its primary action competition will be the weightyQuantum Of Solace. Transporter 2's $85m worldwide gross nearly doubled the original's box office, and with Statham's visibility boosted by recent turns in The Bank Job ($62m worldwide) and Death Race ($66m), this third offering hopes to be a sturdy theatrical performer. But since Statham remains a second-tier action star, ancillaries will go a long way towards determining the ongoing financial viability of this franchise, which has now changed hands from Fox to Lionsgate.
Frank Martin (Statham) is summoned by a shadowy government official (Knepper) to transport Valentina (Rudakova) from Marseilles to an undisclosed location. Though they initially dislike one another, Frank and Valentina start to bond during their transcontinental journey while fending off those who want her dead.
The Transporter series demands a total suspension of disbelief in order for the knowingly over-the-top action sequences to be both viscerally engaging and audaciously funny. Statham is the perfect antihero for these films since his chiselled face and detached air give the ludicrous plots a necessary grounding in reality.
Unfortunately, though, even though Statham retains the right mixture of force and charm, everything else in Transporter 3 feels slipshod. Producer Luc Besson reteams with co-writer Robert Mark Kamen on the screenplay for a third go-round, but the story's odd-couple love story and strained commentary on the evils of corporate environmental pollution has very little teeth.
Narrative thinness could be forgiven if the action scenes compensated, but the colourfully named Olivier Megaton proves to be anything but explosive as an action director. Even with famed martial-arts choreographer Cory Yuen overseeing the fisticuffs, Transporter 3's hand-to-hand fights generate little excitement. Part of the problem is that Megaton speeds up or slows down the action so often, he undermines the whole momentum. But in a larger sense, the movie simply doesn't have enough moments of inspired preposterousness. A chase involving a car and a moving train is as close as Transporter 3 gets to the giddy excesses of past entries in the franchise.
Statham's supporting cast varies from the solidly professional to the truly irritating. Acting veteran François Berleand returns as Frank's sarcastic French-inspector friend, and he does his best with a generic sidekick character. As the film's villain, Robert Knepper tries to embody quiet menace, although his dialogue hits all the predictable beats. But the real disaster is newcomer Natalya Rudakova. Portraying an immature young woman, Rudakova can't make Valentina's impetuousness either sexy or endearing. And while her sparring with Statham is meant to create sexual tension, it instead only makes her a thoroughly unlikable love interest and not someone you'd want to be stuck transporting anywhere.
Robert Mark Kamen
Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci