What is it about Jason Statham that continues to make men and women alike into Statham apologists, regardless of how crappy his films get? I first remember enjoying Statham in his wise-cracking role in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and have since seen him transformed into an unlikely action hero. Statham’s role choices haven’t been great (e.g.War, The One, Death Race, etc.) but he always manages to embody an everyman quality that is relatable for men and irresistable for women. Additionally, his formidable charisma seems to constantly be crying out that, as an actor, he is better than these roles, that maybe he’s choosing them for fun and not because he has to.
The Transporter series of films represents Statham at his best but also at his most inconsequential. In these films we see Statham as a completely competent actor who can convincingly perform action scenes, but who never quite reaches respectability due to threadbare scripts and ridiculous set pieces. The first two Transporter films were low-budget mindless fun, each one grossing a tidy profit. Is the third one an enjoyable romp too? Or does it suck all the fun out of its basic premise?
Transporter 3 has ex-special-forces-soldier-turned-driver Frank Martin (Jason Statham) being forced back into his transporting role after a job he tried to pass off to a colleague (David Atrakchi) goes bad. This time, the cartoonish bad guy, aptly named Johnson (Robert Knepper), is concerned with a forcing a deal between an evil multinational corporation and the head of the Ukranian Environmental Protection Agency (Jeroen Krabbe). Martin’s task is to transport a nondescript package along with a mysterious woman, Valentina (Natalya Rudakova). To ensure his mission is completed, he is strapped with a unremovable metal bracelet that will explode if he gets too far away from his vehicle.
Transporter plots have never been the film’s strong points, and this one is no exception: The plot is full of holes and inconsistencies. Martin, who has established certain immutable rules for his transporter business, manages to break every single one again, just as he’s done in his previous films. The question for me going into this film was, does the action deliver? The answer: Kinda. The action here is a lot of fun, and although the final set piece is over just a bit too quickly, there’s enough good stuff here to keep casual fans entertained.
However, the film never rises to what I would consider Transporter-style levels of outlandishness. In the first film, Frank Martin fought a team of bad guys while oiled up and using bicycle pedals to keep his balance. In the second film, Frank Martin drove his car off a ramp and had a crane grab a bomb off the vehicle’s underside, before landing perfectly upright. This film never achieves anything similar to those moments, despite the introduction of a Crank/Speed-like plot device in the exploding bracelet. Aside from a fantastically conceived and executed bicycle sequence (which you can briefly see in the film’s trailer), nothing here really wows. I strongly felt that the only way for this movie to succeed was to embrace its over-the-top nature, but unfortunately, it chose to go another way.
The biggest problem with this film is the completely pointless romantic subplot. The previous Transporter films have had Martin dabble with romance before (once with Asian actress Shu Qi and a brief flirtation in the last film with Amber Valetta). But they’ve always been pushed to the side in favor of Frank Martin fighting guys and blowing them up. This one spend a painfully long time on the relationship between Martin and Valentina, seemingly forgetting that romance is not why people go to see Transporter films. What’s more puzzling is that the script was written by series producer Luc Besson (with Robert Mark Kamen), who bafflingly doesn’t seem to understand what makes his series fun. The relationship never even approaches plausibility and every single beat of it is cringe-worthy. Due to the copious amount of time the film spends on ponderous moments between these two, the film never quite breaks out to achieve the momentum present in the previous films.
Despite their vast differences, it’s hard for me to avoid comparing this movie with Quantum of Solace, since they are both recent action flicks (If Quantum is not billed as such, it certainly features action prominently, both in the movie itself and in its marketing). Let me just say the following: The action in Transporter 3 is more enjoyable and far more comprehensible than that of Quantum. Furthermore, the bad guy in this film, played by Robert Knepper, is much more memorable (even if that’s not saying much), and delightfully self-delusional to boot (“I’m a pacificist,” he declares in one of the film’s final scenes, when earlier in the film we saw him throw a tantrum and shoot his own henchman in in the head). Overall, while Quantum might be a marginally better film, Transporter 3 is more fun and more satisfying as an action movie.
In the end, unless you’re a Transporter fan, there’s nothing here to really recommend this film, save a couple of unique set pieces. If you’re a Transporter fan, you should know that the film really isn’t as enjoyable or as action-laden as the previous two installments. But if all you really want is to see Frank Martin go on one more somewhat satisfying adventure, and I know how hard of an impulse that is to deny, then definitely strap in for Transporter 3.
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10