Ice-cool driver Frank Martin (Statham) is forced into action when a terrorist (Knepper) straps a bomb to his wrist and insists he transport the kidnapped daughter (Rudakova) of a politician to a rendezvous. Should be easy until Frank falls for the girl.
There hasn't been much so far, in his short acting career, that has thwarted Jason Statham. But, with Transporter 3, we may have found his Achilles heel: the law of diminishing returns.
Nobody will ever pretend that the first two Transporter films were works of art. But they were perfectly pitched slices of preposterous fun that went a long way to establishing Statham as a new action hero, as at ease with gruff one-liners as he was with Jackie Chan-esque high-kicking.
Transporter 3, though, is a dour, drab affair that takes itself far too seriously. With previous director Louis Leterrier moving onto greener pastures, writer-producers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen have decided to humanise Frank Martin. So the first time we see him he’s fishing with his buddy, French cop Tarconi (François Berléand), and then becomes something of a wet blanket as he falls for Natalya Rudakova’s Valentina, who seemingly exists purely to disprove the rumour, started by Leterrier, that Martin was, to use Valentina’s own phrase, “the gay”. And, though Martin tersely insists, “I am not the gay,” given the enthusiasm with which he kisses her in a bizarre roadside seduction scene that borders on male rape, she might have a point.
Mind you, Martin may be kissing her just to shut her up, for rarely has a major character been so misjudged. Valentina inexplicably shifts character throughout, from haughty mute to mad-for-it party girl to eyelid-fluttering damsel-in-distress, with only one unifying factor: she remains unlikable throughout. And inbetween, she somehow melts Frank’s defences with a strange series of monologues about chicken kiev and dessert. In fact, she bangs on about food so much that we thought about giving this two Michelin stars instead.
It’s up to the action to save the movie. Sadly, though, the only thing explosive about new director Olivier Megaton is his name. The fight scenes are rote re-runs of the first two films, with nothing to match the slicked-up oil scene of the first, or the firehose bit in the second.
As for car chases, the big gimmick — that Martin is wired to a bomb that will explode if he strays more than 75 feet from his vehicle — is frustratingly under-used, with the only big set-piece, in which Martin takes after the car on a kid’s bike, clunky and uninvolving when it should have been spry and kinetic. The film in microcosm, then.
Incoherent and inconsistent, this is a step back for Statham in his quest to become more than a cult figure.