Lionsgate // 2008 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // March 10th, 2009
Frank Martin: Let me guess. You're the smart one.
Thug: No. I am the big one.
The original Transporter is a fun, brain-free skid through the apparently dangerous world of high-security escorting. I honestly never would have guessed that this modestly-budgeted Luc Besson production would turn into a trilogy, and yet here we are. Transporter 3 doesn't claim to be the last in the series, but it's certainly the weakest of the bunch.
Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is the best delivery guy on the planet. He's a ruthless killer, an aggressive driver, and a stickler for rules. He's also a guy who can't seem to enjoy retirement.
After a "transportation" colleague comes crashing into Frank's house in an Audi, Frank is lured into a dangerous job for a ruthless American (Robert Knepper, Prison Break): he has to drive the kidnapped daughter of a Ukrainian diplomat across Europe while her father is forced to grant passage for some tankers filled with toxic waste. The catch is that both Frank and his freckly hostage, Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), have bracelets that will explode if they wander more than 75 feet from Frank's Audi S8. Talk about a car owner's incentive!
Usually whatever Jason Statham is peddling, I'm buying. Not only is he currently one of the best action stars in Hollywood, he's got acting chops to boot. Unfortunately, despite the insane amount of literal peddling Statham does in Transporter 3, I just wasn't able to enjoy it the way I did previous installments.
The ingredients of the Transporter series have remained largely unchanged: lots of car chases, circles of karate goons, stringy European women, and the complete absence of physics. All of this is good. Great, even. For Transporter 3, series writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen even added the extra gimmick of tethering Statham to his car for maximum suspense. Good thing it's an Audi S8 and not a Ford Festiva.
The whole car gimmick acts as a double-edged sword. One the one hand, it lends itself to some very memorable chase sequences -- including Statham peddling a bicycle through a sweatshop in order to catch up with the vehicle, and an ridiculous climax involving a train. On the other hand, Statham always needing to be near his car means that there's a lot of time spent watching him speed around on deserted European roads...Very straight, deserted, European roads. For a series that prides itself on extremely improbable fights and car acrobatics, there are long stretches of the movie where fans will be forced to simply sit back and listen to dialogue. Bad, bad dialogue.
The bulk of said dialogue comes from Frank Martin's riding partner, a red-headed Ukranian named Valentina. She's cryptic, but also annoyingly childish. The more Frank and Valentina spend in the car together, the more I wanted to press the mute button. "Are you the gay?" she asks. "No, I'm not the gay," he replies. Is that supposed to be an endearing exchange? I realize that no one, not even I, is watching these movies for the story or the dialogue, but that doesn't mean the screenwriters can just quit. Transporter 3 feels like a road trip movie, without the destination or the objectives ever being very clear or meaningful.
Adding to the uneven chaos of the film is the visual stylings of director Olivier Megaton (who is about as intense with the camera as his last name suggests). The fight scenes, when they do occur, reach Bourne levels of ferocity, and they have the added intensity of missing frames and jump cuts. That's not really a good thing. This results in fights that feel even more unnatural than usual, which is odd considering Statham's great stage-fighting skills. The driving sequences are a tad more coherent than the fight scenes, but only because Frank spends much of his time driving on a two-lane country road.
When Frank is fighting, when cars are speeding, and when bad guys are pontificating, the film works as it should. It's when everything slows down to provide character development, romance, and actual plotlines that things start to wear thin.
Transporter 3 is presented in a "Two-Disc Fully Loaded Edition." The standard definition video looks great, with plenty of bright colors and a sharp picture. The 5.1 Dolby Digital EX track sounds equally good, although it's a little strange that this French-produced film only comes with an English audio track.
As for special features, you'll find them all on the first disc -- the second disc is reserved just for the digital copy of the film. The most interesting featurette in the set is "Special Delivery: Transporters in the Real World." Surprise! The Transporter is not really like real life; however, the stories and the interviews in the featurette offer some neat insights. There are a handful of brief "making of" videos cataloguing Megaton's objectives for the film, as well as a look at the stunts and staging of many of the action sequences. All of it is a little fluffy, but generally succinct. I appreciated just knowing how much of the film was real, and how much was digital effects. Lastly, there is an audio commentary with Megaton which covers much of the same ground as the featurettes. I don't know if I would classify all this as being "fully-loaded," considering the total absence of deleted scenes, but what's here is at least worth a look.
The Transporter franchise offers up some butt-kicking escapism. The first one was extremely cool, but each sequel has suffered from diminishing returns. Transporter 3 tries some new gimmicks, like tethering Frank to his Audi, but gets caught up in poor pacing and annoying dialogue. The chases and fight scenes in the film are exciting, but they're too infrequent to mask the problems. It's a noble, but failed, venture, to say the least.
If you're a fan of the franchise, you'll want to check this one out. For my money, I'm sticking with the first one.
Guilty of being the best Audi commercial money can buy.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy