Jason Statham is, undoubtedly, the reigning action man in Hollywood. Looking over his credits since 2002 (when the first Transporter appeared), he's starred in such high octane, low brow fodder as Crank, War, and Death Race. Apparently, when directors are looking for sinewy ex-models with cocky brogues, omnipresent five-o-clock shadow, and abs that just won't quit, Statham gets the call. While he doesn't have the fully rounded persona of past cinematic heroes, he is definitely cut from the same Stallone/Schwarzenegger cloth. The Transporter franchise has clearly helped Statham's broadening appeal. A home video hit, these one note stunt showpieces are part of the ever-expanding production pantheon of French badboy Luc Besson - and as long as the world responds with cash-flush coffers, we'll be seeing several more of these mindless genre exercises. If they're all as lame as Transporter 3, however, this may be one short-lived set of marginal moneymakers.
Frank Martin has officially retired from being a "transporter". He no longer takes risky assignments from questionable clients. Instead, he simply sits back and goes fishing with cop buddy Inspector Tarconi. However, when an American conglomerate is dissatisfied with the work of one of Frank's associates, they kidnap the driving demon and force him to finish the job. Seems a Ukrainian government official is putting the kibosh on toxic waste dumping in his country, and the US desperately wants those contracts back in action. So Frank ends up "transporting" the man's daughter as part of a harried hostage thing. It's blackmail to "sweeten" the negotiations. With our hero behind the wheel, however, the bad guys rarely get what they want - and this time, it could be personal as Frank begins to have feelings for this latest "package."
Something is clearly wrong with director Olivier Megaton - besides the name, that is. All during his commentary track for the newly released Transporter 3 DVD, the French filmmaker refers to his take on the action movie franchise as...get this...a "masterpiece". Not good. Not great. No, a friggin' masterpiece. For him, the editorially sloppy ADD fight scenes and jagged, jump cut chase sequences are miracles of modern moviemaking. To him, the romance between Statham's Frank Martin and newcomer Natalys Rudakova is the natural extension of such solid cinematics. All the comedy is of the highest level, while all the plotting is complex and pitch perfect. In the real world, we call such an approach "delusional". But when you're trying to sell a substandard b-movie to an already cynical demographic, a little self-aggrandizement never hurts. It's just too bad that the audience has no chance of seeing the same things Megaton is musing over. As a thriller, Transporter 3 bandies back and forth between tolerable and terrible. The only time the prefix "master" enters into the conversation here is in junction with the suffix "bation", as in the overall level of mental acuity involved.
Fans will ignore said slander and simply forgive Megaton and his many filmmaking faults. They won't care that, even on the small screen, the fisticuffs seems shortchanged and scattered. There's no flow to the choreography, no attempt to use unusual camerawork (some of the scenes were shot with handheld Steadicams) to heighten the immersion. Instead, Megaton clearly views his work through the limited scope of the onset video playback. Transporter 3 is a movie made for plasma, not silver, screens - and even then, the visual blur is irritating. Equally stressing is the interaction between Statham and his arm candy. Ms. Rudakova is given one of the most aggravating personal traits ever: the wistful lust for food stuffs. As the tension mounts, her Valentina goes off on several internal tours of haute cuisine suggestions that are less mouth watering than brain damaging. We don't care about seared sea bass on a bed of arugula with balsamic vinegar reduction. We simply want competent ass kicking and lots of vehicular mayhem. Sadly, Transporter 3 undersells both in favor of these trips down menu memory lane.
Clearly, Statham deserves better. He is an enigmatic presence onscreen, and when given the proper material, he breaks free of his Neanderthal aura to show great depth and range (right, Guy Ritchie?). But a hunk's gotta eat, and Luc Besson's production company is apparently paying the bigger bucks these days. It's easy to dismiss something like Transporter 3. It's a bottom feeder in a gene pool already inbred and artistically marginalized. Borrowing liberally from other cinematic cultures - Hong Kong, for example - does not mean you'll be successful in the translation. As a matter of fact, as the franchise has hip hopped from filmmaker (Corey Yuen) to filmmaker (Louis Leterrier), the level of competence has been equally uneven. It's as if the Transporter series is afraid to go balls-out and challenge the conventions of the genre. Instead, it wants to be rebellious and recognizable, not the most successful formula for an action film. In this case, the third time is definitely not the charm.
Offered by Lionsgate in a decent 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Transporter 3 is a movie made up of three basic colors - white, black, and metallic blue. Little else matters (unless you're interested in the correctness of Statham's torso skintones - or Ms. Rudakova's ginger freckles). The details are sharp, bordering on the digitally enhanced - though no real post-production edge work can be seen - and the various European locations come across with a real sense of visual splendor. This is indeed a professional and polished looking film. What happens inside such pretty pictures is another matter all together.
It used to be that a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix meant something. It used to suggest a kind of in-theater immersive experience. Nowadays, it's become the stock standard, the multichannel element doing little to flesh out the aural experience. It's the same here. We get the occasional directional effects (as when a bicycle riding Martin chases his stolen vehicle through a crowded bazaar) and some attempts at atmosphere, but overall, the sonic situation here is loud, clunky, and uninspired.
Aside from the aforementioned commentary, which truly is a one man love affair with his own work, Lionsgate loads up this two disc set with several additional EPK like bits of added content. Don't get too excited about the extra DVD, however. It only houses the obligatory digital copy of the film. And for those curious about the MPAA rating here, it's PG-13 all the way. This is NOT an "Unrated" or "Director's" Cut of Transporter 3. What you saw in the theaters is what you get here. Elsewhere, we get a featurette focusing on the real like "transporters" of the world, as well as three separate looks at the storyboards, sets, and special F/X in the film. Finally, there's a decent Making-of that showcases how some of the action scenes would have looked had Mr. Megaton not screwed around with their mise-en-scene in post-production. It's a shame to see such hard work later marginalized in a 'blink and you'll miss it' directorial mentality.
With a movie like Transporter 3, there will always be two schools of critical thought. On the one hand are the die-hards, the true believers who will look beyond any and all flaws to find the semi-silver lining in their favorite motion picture series. For them, this Megaton mess will be nothing but pure adrenaline. On the other hand, we have the film purists, those for whom navel-gazing dramas about depressed dysfunctional families contemplating suicide mark the cutting edge of creativity. Somewhere in the middle lies the true demographic - and decision - for this film. If you have a couple of spare hours and don't mind specious cinematic stylings, a Rent It will do you fine. All others may want to wait until Transporter 3 makes its obligatory multiple appearances on one of several pay cable channels sometime in the near future. One thing's for sure - Olivier Megaton is one of the few filmmakers who'll never be able to live up to his chosen nom de plume. There is definitely nothing "nuclear" about this derivative, unnecessary tre-quel.