Film Review: Transporter 3

Courier must deliver a booby-trapped package to Budapest without getting blown up. The loudest and least convincing entry in the action series is still a good showcase for star Jason Statham.

The third installment in the Transporter series returns Jason Statham to his best screen role to date, driver extraordinaire Frank Martin. A sort of downscale James Bond, Martin specializes in missions involving car chases, martial-arts fights, sadistic villains and leggy models, plots that inevitably reveal the romantic core to his gruff exterior. Transporter 3 goes even further, giving Martin a love interest among all the mayhem. Unfortunately, love scenes—especially those filtered through producer and co-screenwriter Luc Besson's sensibilities—are the last thing you want in a Transporter film.

After some excruciating comic relief involving hangdog sidekick Tarconi (François Berléand), Martin finds himself in a jam. Kidnapped by thugs, he is ordered by assassin Johnson (Robert Knepper) to drive Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), a Ukrainian party girl, from Marseille to Budapest. Johnson's equipped both of them with explosive bracelets that will detonate if they stray too far from their car. What's worse, Russian agents have been sent to intercept and kill Martin before he can make his delivery.

Tracked by GPS, Martin finds himself surrounded by Johnson's underlings whenever he veers off course. (Frankly, the film could have used a few more of these diversions, as the fistfights are easily the most entertaining of the action elements.) Valentina may pose a greater threat than bodybuilding goons. Convinced that she will be killed anyway, during one lull she orders Martin to perform an erotic striptease so she can enjoy "the sex" one more time.

With a surfeit of plot, Transporter 3 stills ends up defying logic and most of the laws of physics by the time its explosive climax rolls around. Martin crashes off not one but two bridges during chases that take place in forests, meadows, quarries and other unlikely spots. He also manages to outrun a speeding car, survive mortal wounds, and keep a straight face while delivering exposition.

As Valentina, Rudakova, a former hairdresser, is a typical Besson heroine: tall, sullen, scantily clad, and for long stretches unintelligible. Knepper makes an effectively icy villain, while Berléand is absent for most of the film. In fine fighting form, Statham makes the most of his part, which has been tailored to his physical skills as well as his trademark restrained growl.

Director Olivier Megaton, a former graffiti artist and veteran of scores of music-videos, was second-unit director on last year's abysmal Hitman. He executes even the most preposterous sequences with conviction, but Transporter 3 should really be regarded as a Luc Besson project. Simultaneously pretentious and trashy, it is also a high-volume, fast-paced, defiantly entertaining action machine. And in its three martial-arts sequences, choreographed in delirious shorthand by Hong Kong master Cory Yuen, it even approaches art.