So the good news is that TRANSPORTER 3 is as likeably goofy, lunkheaded, fast-paced and as entertaining as the previous entries in the series. The even better news is that TRANSPORTER 3 is probably the best of the series thus far, with a really good plot hook that helps to keep everything moving, an excellent lead villain in Robert Knepper, and one more rock-solid performance from Jason Statham that not only puts him near the top of crop of the current action heroes, but also adds more weight to the argument that Statham has it in him to go on to be one of the all-time action movie greats, if he wants it. It’s nice to see that the slick, efficient, but not totally overblown action film not only survives, but has a champion in this fun little series. It’s the third film out, and the TRANSPORTER series is, amazingly, 3 for 3.
TRANSPORTER 3 credits may say it was directed by one Olivier Megaton (no comment), but this is Luc Besson’s baby all the way. Besson once seemed like the devil himself, churning out one soulless action production after another, but he and his crew have gotten their act together in recent years and have come up with a solid batch of action films, like these TRANPORTER films, Louis Lettier’s UNLEASHED (probably Jet Li’s best English-language vehicle), and Patrick Laugier’s DISTRICT 13 (Laugier’s TAKEN, starring Liam Neeson, finally opens here in January and I have to say I’m looking forward to it). Besson uses mostly French crews, imports Hong Kong action crews (like Corey Yuen-Kwai, credited director of the first TRANSPORT and martial arts choreographer on many of these films), shoots all over Europe, but is ever-mindful of the international market. Usually working with regular screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, the premises are typically very pat and always lend themselves to some pretty wild and original stunts that are shot and edited in such an expert style that they always happen to impress. TRANSPORTER 3 is really no different in this regard (although I felt that the constant editing in the fight scenes in this one took away from the inventiveness of Yuen’s choreography), and while it doesn’t ever really feel anything more than part of a franchise, at least it stills like there’s life in it. I think a lot of this has to do with the addition of a hook – Transporter Statham and his lovely companion are both rigged with explosives that will go off if they move more than 75 feet away from the car – that keeps the film on its toes. It makes for a whole lot of clever ideas and unique action (that car can find itself in the oddest places) and in a sense, it makes it the ideal TRANSPORTER film, since the car and the driver are never separated, guaranteed that the chase will keep on going. And thank goodness that it’s Statham behind the wheel, because he’s one of the few modern-day actors who can make a role like this work. The guy is chiseled in every place and is all the more right for it (Jealous? You bet I am!), but beyond the arch stare he does create a character here; we don’t know much about his Frank Martin, nor do we care to, but we understand that this is a guy with a code of honor in the best tradition of such characters, and it’s great that Statham already has a signature role down pat.
Still, let’s not kid ourselves – TRANSPORTER 3 is an incredibly goofy movie, never to be taken seriously, often ludicrous to the extreme and on a few occasions, downright bad, with horrendous dialogue and a few awful performances (lead Natalya Rudakova is lovely, quite fetching looks great next to Statham’s black-suited Transporter, but she can’t act to save her life). As much fun as it is, it’s also incredibly disposable and full of empty calories. Of course, any attempt to make it more of a “real” movie, with believable characters and good dialogue, might not help its entertainment value, but it’s also not going to make it much of a keeper, I think. It is what it is and shouldn’t be faulted for it, but I suppose because Statham and the crew are doing so much good work, I sort of wish that it were a bit more substantial. Look at a picture like CASINO ROYALE, which has all that TRANSPORTER 3 has and more, and you’ll know that this sort of thing can be classic material, and since I can’t wait to see a TRANSPORTER 4 (nothing confirmed on this, but why would they not?), I’d also like to see them kick it up a notch and put some meat on those bones. The car is a beautiful, sleek machine that runs like a beauty, but at this point in time it’s a Lexus. Let’s get it up and running to Porsche quality and see how fast she’ll go.