Transporter 3Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/26/08 17:20:47
(Worth A Look)
As I sit down to write about “Transporter 3,” the latest installation of the series of action films created by that most tireless of auteurs, Luc Besson, as a combined showcase for his particular brand of cheerfully over-the-top stunt sequences and the smoothly charismatic presence of star Jason Statham, I find myself deeply torn as to how to proceed. On the one hand, I have to admit that it is not a very good movie by most critical standards--it lacks the ingenuity and excitement that drove the first two films, too many of the action scenes have been over-edited to the point of incoherence and even by the standards of the genre, the storyline is pretty weak sauce--and I have no doubt that many of you will either at best dun it as the worst of the series or at worst decry it as the worst kind of soulless, soul-crushing cinematic abomination. If I wanted to, in fact, I could easily write a review that would tear the film to shreds for these reasons and many others to boot. And yet, while the film is crap from start to finish, I personally found it to be a pretty entertaining piece of crap regardless of its flaws--so much so, in fact, that I had far more fun watching it than last week’s equally noisy and incoherent “Quantum of Solace.” Therefore, the question arises--do I give it the merciless pan that it probably deserves or do I go out on a limb and hail it as some kind of guilty pleasure even while admitting that most of you will probably think it is the stupidest thing that you have seen in a long time?For those of you who have somehow missed out on the previous “Transporter” films, they center on Frank Martin (Statham) an expert driver who will transport anything you want from point A to point B as quickly and carefully as possible with no questions asked. Like many action heroes of contemporary cinema, he has a list of rules that he follows in regards to his job in order to make things run as smoothly and efficiently as possible that he reveals to us in the early scenes. And like many action heroes of contemporary cinema, he then spends virtually the rest of the movie violating those heretofore sacrosanct guidelines when the going gets tough, which is often since the people who hire him have a strange tendency to then attempt to double-cross him at the earliest available opportunity. Luckily, Frank is skilled enough with his hands to defeat the bad guys with his martial-arts prowess and smart enough to apparently collect his fee in advance because as the film opens, he is once again kicking back and taking it easy at his secluded mansion in Marseilles. Okay, perhaps it isn’t that secluded--the first film saw it as the target of a missile attack and before too long in this installment, a car comes plowing through his rumpus room at top speed with a driver who is riddled with bullet holes.
Anyway, the driver turns out to be a fellow transporter whom Frank recommended to some shady types to handle a job that he didn’t want to do but before Frank can give the guy an estimate on the damage he caused, he is knocked unconscious and when he comes to, he is at the headquarters of Mr. Johnson (Robert Knepper), the guy who he turned down in the first place. This time around, Johnson makes him an offer he can’t refuse (lest there be no “Transporter 4”) and before long, he is heading off to parts unknown in his beloved car with some unknown items in the trunk, a mysterious Ukrainian babe named Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) in the front seat with him and a bomb-laden bracelet on his left wrist that will detonate if he moves more than 75 feet away from the car. As the two speed from France to Budapest to Odessa, Frank gradually discovers that the real package is Valentina herself--she has been kidnapped as part of an elaborate plot by a sinister American business concern to force her father (Jeroen Krabbe), a high-ranking government official, to allow them to dump tons of toxic waste in their waters. Of course, all of this is merely a prelude for an endless series of chase scenes, fight sequences and a bizarre bit in which our heroes take a break from the road so that Valentina can force Frank to perform a striptease for her while still managing to stay close enough to the car to make the scene almost seem like an outtake from David Cronenberg’s “Crash.”
As the film winds its way around the European countryside, it pretty much makes every mistake that an empty-headed action blockbuster can. For starters, the storyline cooked up by Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen (who co-wrote the previous entries in the series) is exceptionally lame and uninspired--for a good portion of the running time, the story makes no sense whatsoever and when the plot is finally explained, it is so silly that it feels less like a real premise and more like the kind of joke plot that the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker trio might have deployed for the parody version. (Without going into too much detail, I will simply point out that the bad guys seem to have chosen the path of most resistance in order to achieve their theoretically simple goals.) The central bad guy is exceptionally weak this time around--he is basically a middle-management type who spends most of his time barking orders into his cellphone and when it comes time for his final confrontation with Frank, the disparity between the two is so enormous that the fight is over even before it begins. Of course, nearly all the fights in this film are over pretty much before they begin because of director Olivier Megaton’s decision to hack the fight choreography from the usually reliable Corey Yuen into bits by over-editing the footage into a quick-cut mess that is virtually impossible to follow and which undermines the physical grace that Statham usually brings to these films. And yet, all of these flaws pale in comparison to the film’s biggest problem--the stupefying awful performance from Natalya Rudakova as Valentina. Yes, she is a looker in the long tradition of slim Eurobabes that Besson has been packing his films with since the days of “La Femme Nikita” (and her resemblance to Besson’s former wife/muse Milla Jovovich is profound enough to suggest that perhaps he still has some issues that need to be worked out) but her presence is so grating, both during the times when she is supposed to be annoying as well as the times when she is meant to be sympathetic, that most viewers may find themselves hoping that Frank will toss her into the trunk of his car and provide ventilation in the time-honored style of Cody Jarrett.
These are all pretty egregious cinematic sins and in most cases, the presence of any one of them would provide enough reason for me to dismiss a film along the lines of “Transporter 3” outright. And yet, I cannot because while I must admit to all of its flaws, I must also admit that I was having too good of a time watching the film to let them bother me too much. You see, the secret behind the success of the first two movies has always boiled down to the presence of its two chief assets--the deliberately cartoonish nature of the more deliberately over-the-top stunt sequences (which tend to come across like a really expensive and elaborate version of what you might see while watching some overcaffienated kids playing with the Hot Wheels) and the low-key and down-to-earth demeanor of Jason Statham--and the weird way in which these two seemingly incompatible elements wind up playing off of each other in unexpected ways. Although there are fewer of them here than in the previous films, “Transporter 3” does supply a couple of action set-pieces that offer up Besson’s patented blend of cheerful cartoonishness and breathless action. In one, Frank is separated from his car and goes on a wild pursuit via bicycle that leads him into any number of unexpected areas. In another, towards the end, he drives his car off a bridge and finds himself stuck in a situation in which he can either drown with his car or blow himself up while trying to escape. In both situations, the means by which Frank manages to escape certain death may be absolutely implausible but they are staged with such impeccable style and good humor that they are impossible to resist. Part of the reason that these sequences work so well is the utterly implacable and straight-faced demeanor that Statham brings to the role of Frank. If Frank had been played by someone who realized that they were in a cartoon, things would have gotten tiresome very quickly but by proceeding as if every situation was completely plausible, Statham manages to keep the film from spinning completely off the rails and his poker-faced demeanor actually earns more than a few laughs as well.Thanks to the welcome presence of these elements, I found myself having an inordinate amount of fun while watching “Transporter 3”--at least enough to move its considerable flaws to the back burner of my mind. Many of you will feel otherwise and to you, all I can do is suggest that you spend your time watching one of the infinitely more sophisticated and intelligent movies that are in release right now like “Milk,” “Slumdog Millionaire” or “Let the Right One In.” However, if you have a taste for expensive eye candy of a European nature and are willing to suffer through a lot of dumb stuff in order to get to the Good Parts, you may find yourself responding to this film in much the same way that I did. If you don’t, you can’t say that I didn’t warn you.
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