A disappointing return to the Transporter series (whose initial films didn’t exactly set the bar overly high), Olivier Megaton’s Transporter 3 jettisons the goofy, over-the-top fun of its predecessors in favor of a more serious Bourne-lite ride.
Go-to action hero Jason Statham is still in fine form but the film surrounding him would better fit the talents of a Gary Daniels or Olivier Gruner.
A needlessly complicated backstory has your standard crew of baddies, led by Mr. Johnson (a hammy Robert Knepper), wanting to deliver a boatload of toxic waste to a Ukranian harbor; government official Leonid Vasilev (Jeroen Krabbé) isn’t too keen on this, so Johnson’s crew kidnaps his daughter and forces him to sign the required paperwork.
They also need someone to drive said daughter (a fetching Natalya Rudakova) from Marseilles to Odessa for some reason I must’ve missed, and that’s where professional driver Frank Martin (Statham) comes in. To ensure he makes his delivery, Johnson rigs an explosive device to Martin’s wrist, which will explode if he gets 75 feet away from his car.
This is Transporter 3‘s one good idea, and you better believe the filmmakers are gonna mine it for all it’s worth, whether it involves an attempt to make it to the bathroom, or Statham sticking with the car as it sinks to the bottom of a lake (using air from the tires to breathe), or the inevitable disposal of the bad guy.
Half an hour through the film, we have a brief car chase involving another Transporter while Martin is fishing with a friend, and an even briefer fight scene, told in flashback no less.
I wondered when things would pick up, but I should’ve been wondering if; the rest of the film gives us one more chase and one more fight before the big finale which gives us cars and fights. We don’t come to the Transporter movies for plot or romance, but that’s what this one attempts, and fails, to deliver.
Still, it’s not a total waste. The car chases work pretty well, and often employ the mad inventiveness we come to these films for (at one point, Martin is driving at a 45-degree angle between two eighteen-wheelers.)
And despite finding myself just waiting around in-between action scenes for the next one to come, I can’t say I was bored; the filmmakers don’t quite have a handle on pacing, but they seem to know the maximum time allowable between action scenes before the audience will give up on the film.
Major flaw: the hand-to-hand combat scenes are over-edited and under-shot, reaching a bizarre middle ground where we can’t really follow what’s going on, but we frequently notice the glaring continuity errors. And the first films, directed by action experts Corey Yuen (1) and Louis Leterrier (2), handled these so well.
Here, director Megaton (now, he does have the action director name, I’ll give him that) goes so far as to speed up the fight scenes, to such a laughable effect that it feels like they’re overcranking the camera in a silent comedy.
Remember the days of Enter the Dragon, when Bruce Lee delivered a fatal dropkick to the chest of an opponent, it was shot in super slo-motion and you could see each individual muscle contract and the flesh ripple upon impact? Now that’s how you shoot a fight scene.