Transporter 3

Transporter 3


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

For the third outing in the franchise, producer and co-writer Luc Besson eschews martial arts violence and turbo-charged car chases for a low-key, cerebral thriller in which Frank Martin (Jason Statham) questions not only his work, but his very place in the universe...

Made you look. Of course, it’s the same crash-bang-wallop, lads’ mag wish-fulfilment fantasy as the first two. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – simply break some cars, trains, boats and bad guys’ limbs instead. It’s directed by a bloke called Megaton, for heaven’s sake! Autumnal-hued introspection is, for once in French cinema, not on the agenda.

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But the great thing about the Transporter films is their sheer unashamed sense that there’s no point being a supercool driver-for-hire-cum-killing-machine if you can’t have a bit of fun. Unburdened by Bourne’s secret past or Bond’s inner conficts, Frank just gets on with the job in hand and whichever director Besson’s picked this time orchestrates the mayhem accordingly.

And to be fair, Megaton et al do play a few variations on the theme. This time, the twist is that Frank falls in love, though this does largely consist of him furrowing his brow a little further and occasionally changing the default setting of his voice from ‘menacing growl’.

The object of his affections is Valentina (Natalya Rudakova). She’s the daughter of the Ukrainian energy minister (the veteran Jeroen Krabbé in full-on Euro-smoothie mode) who’s refusing to sign an agreement allowing ships full of toxic waste from the Nasty Big American Company to dock in Odessa. The villains, hired by the NBAC and led by the psychopathic Johnson (Robert Knepper) have kidnapped her and need to transport her across Europe to get Dad to sign.

Frank is offered the job but rejects it, pausing only to larrup the bejesus out of Johnson’s henchmen when they try to persuade him otherwise. Soon after the mate he recommended for the gig crashes his car through the wall of Frank’s Riviera hideaway, entrusts Valentina to Frank’s safe-keeping and promptly expires in the ambulance – courtesy of a fiendish wrist-lock device that detonates when the wearer moves more than 75 feet from their car.

Johnson persuades Frank to take over the job, and he and Valentina set off, wrist-locks in place, police and private goons hired by Dad on their trail as well as Johnson’s men, convinced that termination of the contract will mean just that – and, wouldn’t you know, overcoming an initial dislike to find they’re falling for each other.

You can undoubtedly guess the rest – there’s a car chase about once every five minutes, as well as the franchise’s obligatory garage scene, where a dozen or so goons do their bit to reduce gun crime by going at Frank one at a time while wielding various car maintenance-related implements, a gloriously gratuitous showcase for the skills of fight director Corey Yuen and the buffed physique of Our Jase. He never seems to be able to keep his shirt on at these moments, but that wouldn’t bother you either if you possessed biceps and shoulders which seem to have had Eccles Cakes surgically implanted underneath them.

And the climax is as spectacular as it’s preposterous. There’s no point looking for much plot coherence here, or anywhere else – why do the villains need to drive Valentina across Europe in the first place, when they can blackmail Dad just by putting her on the phone? – but there’s no doubt it all gets the pulse racing.

Megaton does the business admirably, and a few of the set pieces have a nicely off-kilter flair; a chase where Frank grabs a chopper bike and pedals furiously through a warehouse short cut to catch the slags who’ve knicked his motor, encountering a Tom and Jerry-esque series of obstacles, is undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek but at the same time ludicrously thrilling.

The supporting cast do the business too – in particular the villain. Unlike the charisma vacuum of the original and the cartoon fembot of the first sequel, Knepper (best known as T-Bag in Prison Break) is a proper action movie bad guy – smart in every sense, scarily calm and polite, but a mean sonofabitch nonetheless. He punches women in the stomach, has a disciplinary policy of summary execution for employees who mildly irritate him, and gets the drop on Frank several times, creating the necessary niggling fear that he might at least force a technical knockout – or rob his adversary of the thing he holds most dear...

François Berléand (who’s worked with Louis Malle and Bertrand Tavernier, lest we forget) also has a whale of a time, making Frank’s police chief best mate much more of a plot motor (as opposed to the ‘hilarious’ poisson-out-of-water comic relief he was limited to in the first sequel) and providing a glorious digression on the Eastern European character’s predilection to melancholia which again leaves you thinking: “Hang on, this IS Transporter 3, isn’t it”?

In fact, the main weak spot is Rudakova. Apparently discovered by Besson when he saw her crossing a road in New York, she’s certainly beautiful but is lumbered with dialogue which is basically variations on: “Vy you not lighten up, Mr Frank?”. She’s clearly supposed to be a wild child, free spirit, everything Frank isn’t etc but simply comes across as irritating and gormless. You wouldn’t expect feminist polemic in a Transporter film, but given that action movie heroines do tend to help rather than hinder these days, having one that’s as useless as an early Seventies Bond girl seems the wrong side of retro.

But this is a boys’ film at the end of the day, and it holds it own well with the mega-franchises on a fraction of the budget and a refreshing preference for real stunts over CGI. You can almost smell the burning rubber - and, indeed, the testosterone. Despite the final scene, I’ve a feeling that Frank isn’t ready for pipe and slippers just yet.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2008
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Transporter 3 packshot
Frank Martin is forced into another ‘transporter’ job. But this time the package is human – and very beautiful.
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Director: Olivier Megaton

Writer: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

Starring: Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, Robert Knepper, François Berléand

Year: 2008

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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