Transporter 3 (France/United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Transporter 3 Poster

The Transporter movies remind me of the Bond films of the '70s and '80s, in which each new installment tried to one-up its predecessor in terms of inventive and outrageous action set pieces. Without a doubt, Transporter 3 offers more innovative ways in which to defy the laws of physics than Transporter or Transporter 2, but it lacks more than a semblance of a coherent plot. And director Olivier Megaton (what a name for an action director…) has succumbed to the belief that an action scene isn't good if the viewer can figure out what's going on. Because of this, Transporter 3 is the most frustrating entry into a series that has never set the bar terribly high.

As the curtain rises, Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is about to get forced by circumstances into accepting a job he doesn't want. The "package" is a freckled, crimson-haired Ukranian named Valentina (Natalya Rudankova). There is no destination. Frank is supposed to drive around waiting for updates to punch into his GPS. His employer, Johnson (Robert Knepper), isn't the trusting sort. To ensure that Frank plays ball, he presents both the Transporter and his Transportee with bracelets that are rigged to explode if they get more than 75 feet away from the car. Of course, these can't be taken off and the transmitter can't be disarmed. As a result, Frank and Valentina have to be very careful where they park.

Transporter 3 does not take place in this world. It transpires in a far-off land where cars can come to clean, skidding stops atop speeding trains and where those same cars can tilt on two wheels and zip in between tractor trailers. Moves like these are bold enough to make one smirk at their audacity - not even Bond at his cheesiest in his best Q-equipped vehicles would try something like this - but it's an empty amusement. There are also a couple of nice fight scenes, including one in which Frank undresses and uses his clothing (jacket, tie, shirt) to disarm his foes. Those hyperkinetic many-on-ones are fun to the extent that Megaton lets us watch them. The overall effect of the fast camera movements and rapid-fire editing is to make the action scenes seem to be having seizures. They're not as bad as in Quantum of Solace, but pointing out the differences would be nit-picking. What's the point of hiring Corey Yuen to choreograph the fight scenes if they're going to be run through a cinematic blender before being projected on a screen in all their grand incoherence?

One gets the feeling that the story was developed to accommodate the action set pieces, rather than the other way around. At best, the plot is irrelevant. At worst, it makes no sense. The ending is especially confusing, although that's probably as much of function of the way it was assembled as how it was written. In retrospect, I was able to piece things together but, as events were transpiring, I had no idea what was happening. That's not an especially satisfying way to conclude 100 minutes of cinematic overdrive. The ending feels like a cheat because it is a cheat, and an example of an inexcusably lazy screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, who may be growing tired of their creation.

Jason Statham strides through this movie with aplomb to match his display in Transporter and Transporter 2. He's the consummate straight man, with all of the crazy stunts representing Lou Costello to his Bud Abbott. The love interest is Natalya Rudakova, who is perhaps most notable because she is not conventionally attractive. There's something sexy about her (especially for anyone with a thing for redheads or freckles), but she's not the usual bombshell one expects in this sort of role. She also appears to be unable to speak English - her lines sound like phonetic readings. The chief villain is played by Robert Knepper, who fails to exude the sheer creepiness he brings to the TV series Prison Break.

The concept of confining Frank and Valentina to a small perimeter around the car would seem to be rich with possibilities, but it's an underused device. It comes into play about three times, one of which is comedic. The best of these instances occurs when someone steals the car and Frank has to catch up to it or turn into a human smoke signal. For the most part, however, it's just a convenient way to keep the lead male and lead female together long enough for them to fall for each other. The sweet nothings they end up uttering to one another aren't Shakespearean sonnets, and the seduction scene is more odd than sexy.

Transporter 3 is proof that brain-dead action movies can be found in theaters during Oscar season as well as during the summer. Fans of the first two Transporter films will likely find this one diverting, although it is a step in the wrong direction. Others will wonder how a movie this disjointed and poorly scripted could get made. I'm betting we haven't seen the last of Frank. He may have broken all of his prized "rules," but that's not enough to keep a good man down, especially in a series where gravity is a variable thing.

Transporter 3 (France/United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2008-11-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1