"Do I look like a man who came half-way across Europe to die on a bridge?"
It may be the third instalment of a series, but Transporter 3 could easily have been entitled Generic Action Movie. Coming from Luc Besson's French action production house, this third Transporter outing is only destined to please undiscriminating action fans or unfussy viewers. The film contains a few nice car chases, a few scenes of fisticuffs, a handful of nifty stunts and some explosions, but the material is painfully generic, and the film doesn't do anything well enough to genuinely stand out amongst hundreds of other action titles. The fact that it has glaring problems with scripting and pace - and that it's not as thrilling as it should've been - only worsens matters, ensuring that Transporter 3 will not be remembered in a few years - or, indeed, a couple of hours after you watch it.
Effectively retired from the transporter business, Frank Martin (Statham) is approached by a bunch of Generic Shady Bad Guys™ to take care of a delivery job, but he promptly refuses despite forceful persuasion. He recommends someone else for the job, but his replacement is promptly killed, forcing Frank back into play. Johnson (Knepper) refuses to take no for an answer this time - to make sure Frank plays ball, he fits him with an explosive bracelet rigged to detonate if he gets more than 75 feet away from his car. In Frank's trunk are a couple of bags he's supposed to deliver, while his passenger seat is occupied by Ukrainian girl Valentina (Rudakova) who also carries an explosive bracelet and whose place in the scheme is unknown.
The first two Transporter films are not action masterpieces, but they remain eminently watchable thanks to high energy levels, stylised action, excellent fight scenes and a non-serious tone. However, this Transporter outing is a gloomier affair, resulting in an often joyless action machine without the euphoric spark that made its predecessors so fun. Because Transporter 2 was so preposterously over-the-top, the filmmakers attempted to bring things back down to earth by focusing more on character interaction (oh dear) than delirious, over-the-top action beats. Problem is, try as he might, Olivier Megaton is simply not an overly good director and the pacing is at times too sluggish. Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen also made the terrible mistake of introducing a romantic subplot into the fray, with Frank's sensitive side being exposed to Valentina as they exchange inane dialogue. Clearly, the aim was to move the series forward by exploring further facets of Frank's character. While it's possible to appreciate what the filmmakers aspired to do, it was just not done well enough.
Transporter 3's story is heavily clichéd, but that's to be expected I guess. The problem, though, is that the story doesn't make much coherent sense because of vague villain motives and clumsy exposition. Not to mention, as with most modern actioners, all of the stunts, fights and action scenes are marred by confusing camera placement and rapid-fire editing, making certain sequences impossible to enjoy. The fights were choreographed by Corey Yuen, so they are often impressive...but only if you can figure out what the hell is happening. Why hire such a talent like Yuen if all of his choreography will be cut to shreds in the editing room? The film suffers because of its PG-13 rating too, as it was choppily edited to avoid the need for violent shots of bullet hits. Transporter 3 is for the most part dumb as well - villains are stupid and can't shoot straight, and Frank at one stage balances his car on two side wheels to go between two trucks. It's therefore baffling that the tone is so dim. Why not cut loose and just revel in fun ridiculousness? To be fair, there is some fun to be had from time to time, and isolated action scenes do shine (a highlight sees Frank chasing a car on foot and on a bicycle).
Returning to the role of Frank Martin, Jason Statham is essentially the same character here that he plays in all of his action movies. However, Statham is so successful not because of range but because of his inherent charisma and screen presence, both qualities of which are omnipresent in his performance here. Additionally, Statham actually inhabited the role, and as a result doesn't ever sound contrived or phoney, which is highly laudable. Statham's love interest this time around was played by Natalya Rudakova; a hairdresser with no acting experience who was recruited by Luc Besson on a whim. Her lack of acting skills is obvious, but she's serviceable enough for this type of action movie. Interestingly, while Rudakova is admittedly somewhat sexy, she's not the typical superhot Megan Fox type that one would expect to see in a movie like this. Meanwhile, Robert Knepper played the villain, Johnson. He's a completely generic action movie villain, though, and he lacks the chilling edge of his work on TV's Prison Break.
At the end of the day, Transporter 3 is neither good nor bad. It's heavily flawed and completely forgettable, but is nonetheless serviceable and enjoyable to an extent thanks to a few nice action beats and even a decent smattering of tongue-in-cheek humour. Action films like these are akin to a hamburger from McDonalds - quick, easy, cheap and readily available, but nothing overly skilful, and some are better made than others.