Luc Besson’s “Transporter” series has been Eurotrash from the very beginning, but never more so than in this third installment, a splashy but tedious retread that suggests the franchise has run totally out of gas.
Jason Statham returns as driver extraordinaire Frank Martin, now semi-retired in his splendid chateau, and with a distinctly “within the law” attitude and a fast friend in avuncular police inspector Tarconi (Francois Berleand). But just when he thought he’d gotten out of the fast-car business, he’s pulled back in by the villainous Johnson (Robert Knepper) when the younger driver he’d recommended to the guy (David Atrakchi) fails to make the grade. So Frank finds himself with a bomb attached to his wrist that will go off with unhappy result unless he speeds his package—a surly Ukrainian girl called Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), outfitted with a similar bracelet—across the continent to Eastern Europe.
As is made clear from the beginning, the job has something to do with a dastardly plot by some nameless industrial enterprise to dump boatloads of toxic waste in Ukraine, despite the opposition of the country’s eco-conscious environmental minister (Jeroen Krabbe). Eventually it’s revealed that Valentina is his kidnapped daughter. What’s not clear is why Johnson is having the girl driven across Europe rather than just keeping her under wraps until the minister does as he wishes—except to provide an excuse for all the automotive tricks, martial-arts fights and chases (including a couple involving a bike and a train) Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen can cram into their script.
The senselessness of the plot—which pauses for some implausible romantic stuff between Frank and the girl, too—is matched by the pointless flamboyance of the execution. Director Olivier Megaton, cinematographer Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci, editors Camille Delamarre and Carlo Rizzo, special effects coordinator Philippe Hubin and fight choreographer Cory Yuen try to jazz things up visually to hide the essential vapidity of what’s going on, but Besson apparently hasn’t provided the euros necessary to do the job. The big action sequences are messy—an explosion near the beginning in which Martin is thrown back from the blast looks positively cartoonish, the bike-car chase is blurred and indistinct, and the final face-off with Johnson on a train is pretty chaotic and smudgy. Even the martial arts fights are poorly staged, despite Yuen’s expertise in the field.
As for Statham, he shows once again that he’s got considerable screen presence and a great physique, but his inexpressiveness is tiresome, and the script doesn’t provide him with any good lines; those are left to the genial Berleand, whose laid-back attitude provides some relief from all the hubbub. Knepper gets by on sheer oiliness and Krabbe on his authoritarian air, but Rudakova is so charmless and strident a damsel in distress that the effort to humanize her with a running gag about restaurants falls flat.
“Transporter 3” suggests that the series should be headed for the cinematic junkyard. But don’t be surprised if the indefatigable Besson doesn’t already have another model on the assembly line.