Starring Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, François Berléand, Robert Knepper, and Jeroen Krabbé
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by Olivier Megaton
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, some sexual content and drug material.
There’s only one sequence in Transporter 3 where I genuinely feared for Frank Martin’s (Jason Statham) life. The bad guys have him surrounded on opposite ends of a bridge, pelting his beloved Audi with gunfire. He has nowhere to go but…down. So he does, jamming his trusted beast into gear and sending it through the retaining wall, plummeting to certain watery doom. An average hero in the same predicament — one we’ve seen countless times — would remain submerged until the villains were satisfied, then crawl to a far-off bank and resume pursuit.
Frank doesn’t have that luxury. As the head malevolent (Robert Knepper, looking like the diabolical result of a Morrissey/Bryan Ferry union) explains to a henchman, and to those of us popcorn-eaters who might’ve forgotten, Frank and car are linked by an electronic bracelet and transmitter. Should they be separated by a distance of 75 feet, boom! No more Frank. So Frank has to improvise a way to save not only himself, but also 3,000 pounds of European engineering. How the hell’s he gonna get out of this?
Jason Statham is perfectly cast in such gimmicky affairs, ’cause it’s amusing to see such a taciturn chap — his face is as solid stone as the rest of him, and he delivers each line in a cobblestone rumble usually heard moments before a pint bottle explodes across a pub-crawler’s cheek — dropped into the most absurd premises. You might recall 2006’s Crank, in which his double-crossed hitman is injected with a lethal potion known as a “Beijing Cocktail,” whose effects can only be stymied through steady doses of adrenaline, which means lots of energy drinks, illegal narcotics, and sudden public sex.
Unfortunately, nothing so ridiculous happens very often in Transporter 3. Frank Martin, and the script he follows, hardly breaks a sweat. Garage packed with highly trained brutes? Dispatched efficiently with hand-to-hand ease. Two-lane combat requiring pinpoint precision? That’s Frank’s turf to begin with — he can even catch you on a bicycle. Firepower: wasted bullets. In fact, the only damage he sustains is sartorial; luckily, he’s got a fat trunk of spare apparel to take care of that.
What separates this third entry in the Transporter series from its predecessors are the humdrum stretches between moments of zip. The first two films were colorfully operatic cartoons wallowing in their own breathless implausibility. There’s plenty of action here, but the zeal is gone, as is much of the humor, wiped like the emotion from Statham’s unscratched (but scratchy) puss. How could someone named Olivier Megaton produce something so dull? Apart from the bracelet angle and a few money stunts, it’s a mundane action travelogue with a mysterious “package” and an equally mysterious passenger in the alternately sullen and randy Valentina Vasilev (Natalya Rudakova), a freckled raccoon reminiscent of Molly Ringwald after an especially vicious prom night who might reveal more than she knows — if only Frank Martin, a professional courier, can pry her hands loose from vodka bottlenecks and his zipper. Although he eventually capitulates to her aggressive overtures (he’s gone 3 for 3 in the series), it’s made clear that Frank has only one true love, and Valentina’s sitting in its passenger seat.
Considering his relationship with his four-wheeled paramour, it’s only fitting that screenwriters Luc Besson (maker of Le Dernier Combat, La Femme Nikita, and The Fifth Element) and Robert Mark Kamen explore an angle that finally makes it overt: As long as car and man are together, anything is possible (like becoming two-wheeled lunchmeat between two slices of semi, or chewing up a train car, or starting on only the second try after being pulled from a river). But if they part ways, he dies. So when that moment finally arrives and he deactivates the bracelet that binds their fates, when its forlorn, exhausted shell is torn from the train and dumped onto the tracks, its impossible adventure stilled, it’s the one true casualty Frank Martin suffers. Hopefully, he’s got an on-call matchmaker at his local Audi dealership. It’d be a shame to end the auto-logy before the lovers finally consummate.