Transporter 3

“Transporter 3,” the third installment of the popular franchise, leaves much to be desired as a movie, but it continues to display the appeal of Jason Statham as a viable action star, at a time when the genre desperately needs new actors.

For those who need a reminder, in 2002, Cory Yuen's “The Transporter” introduced audiences to former Special Forces officer Frank Martin. A skilled courier for underworld criminals, Frank is the quintessential man of action and few words. He is paid luxuriously for not asking questions, and never really looking at his cargo. Of course, his superiors know that things will change as soon as Frank discovers the contents of his “packages.”

Shot on a modest budget, the first film struck a chord with action aficionados, grossing $44 million internationally and establishing Jason Statham as an action star. Three years later, “Transporter 2,” was directed by Louis Leterrier, and followed Frank out of retirement on a dangerous assignment. The sequel built on the original's following, grossing $74 million worldwide.

With fans obviously intrigued by the concept, director Olivier Megaton and producer-writer-director Luc Besson (“La Femme Nikita,” “The Fifth Element”) have made “Transporter 3,” which is even less dialogue-driven than its predecessors. Like the first two films, this one is a lengthy, visceral thrill-ride, consisting of high-speed car chases and mano-a-mano battles. Except, that there is more of everything in this saga. (Cory Yuen, the helmer of the first feature, is credited as martial arts choreographer).

Let me explain. From the start, the “Transporter” series was shrewdly calculated, driven by a high-concept, undernourished scenario, and underdeveloped characters, but it had something else to offer as a compensation: a cynical hero, a man of few words who seem not to care about what he was doing. Phrased differently, he's an anti-hero who gets things done, a man that indiscriminating youngsters could believe in in the post 9/11 era could relate to.

In this chapter Statham plays Martin as a courier assigned under pressure with transporting by car Valentina, the kidnapped daughter of Leonid Vasilev, the Ukrainian head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The arduous journey–and the saga is a road picture–takes him from Marseilles through Stuttgart and Budapest, culminating in an exotic locale, Odessa on the Black Sea, a site seldom seen in Hollywood flicks.

The film's basic idea is borrowed from Clouzot's seminal French actioner¬ñthriller starring Yves Montand, “Wages of Fear,” in 1953, and of course the “Speed” movies. To ensure his cooperation, Frank's blackmailers have equipped him with an explosive bracelet that will detonate if he moves more than one hundred feet from the car. For the first time in real danger, the only thing Frank knows about his mission is that he's trapped in this car. The filmmakers have exploited this situation to the max, using it both to increase the level of suspense and to elicit a few smiles (There's one good, humorous scene in this sequence).

The movie, like the previous segments, is all about obstacles along the way, and this one doesn't disappoint with piling up several of them. Assisted by Inspector Tarconi, Frank is forced to face the people who strong armed him to take the job, agents sent by Vasilev to intercept him, and on top of that, the non-cooperation of his reluctant passenger.

In due time, despite Valentina’s cynical disposition and his resistance to get involved, Frank and Valentina fall for each other, while escaping from a series of risky situations.

It's too bad that after a decent beginning, the movie devolves into a bunch of clich?©s. Is there need for a love affair in this sort of picture Probably not, but the producers do not want to alienate completely the female viewers, even if they are well aware that what drives the series is the support of very young males, the primary target audience.

One more observation: As was recently made clear with the 22nd Bond film, “Quantum of Solace,” the mega-hit “Bourne” franchise, now overseen by Paul Greengrass, has raised the bar for actioners on any level, visual, technical, sound effects, and stunts.

I have not counted the action set-pieces, but by my rough estimate, there are at least twice as many in this chapter compared to the former ones. Hence, stepping up the game is the principle to have guided the filmmakers, firmly committed to the notion that “Size Matters,” because everything in this third (but obviously not the last) episode is bigger, much bigger. In the press notes, Gallic director Olivier Megaton is quoted as saying: “In the first two films, the action sequences are very short, but in this one, they¬íre longer and more intense, and they build and build, with everything conceived to have more extensive sequences and bigger pay-offs.”

As formulaic and clich?©-driven as the yarn and its characters are, the movie benefits from the charismatic presence of Jason Statham, who acquits himself honorably as a hero. Young, bold, and virile, he displays an erotic appeal we usually associated with popular action stars at their prime, such as Stallone (“Rambo”) in the 1980s or Bruce Willis (“Die Hard”) in the 1990s. An though this may sound as a dubious complement: Statham is far more compelling when he is silent and does his job proficiently than when he pauses to ponder and explain his actions.

It would be too easy to put down the movie, which strikes me as an extremely calculated enterprise, from the techno-ecological premise to the MPAA Rating (PG-13) to the international cast, which speaks English in at least four different accents. One piece of casting, however, stands out for the worse. Jeroen Krabbe, an otherwise gifted actor, plays Vasilev, and since he is not a global box-office star, I wonder why he was cast in this particular role.

That said, it's all a matter of expectations. You do not go to a “Transporter” film to experience logical plot, cohesive accents, and dramatically engaging characters.

Cast

Frank Martin – Jason Statham
Valentina – Natalya Rudakova
Tarconi – Francois Berleand
Johnson – Robert Knepper
Vasilev – Jeroen Krabbe

Credits

Lionsgate release and presentation of a EuropaCorp production, in association with TF1 Films Production, Grive Productions, Apipoulai Production, Current Entertainment, with the participation of Canal Plus.
Produced by Luc Besson, Steven Chasman.
Directed by Olivier Megaton.
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen, based on characters created by Besson, Kamen.
Camera: Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci.
Editors: Camille Delamarre, Carlo Rizzo.
Music: Alexandre Azaria; production designer, Patrick Durand; art directors, Patrick Schmitt, Arnaud Le Roch.
Costume designer: Olivier Beriot.
Sound: Yves-Marie Omnes; re-recording mixer, Vincent Arnardi.
Special effects supervisor: Philippe Hubin.
Martial arts choreographer: Cory Yuen.
Stunt coordinator: Dominique Fouassier.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 104 Minutes.