Jason Statham’s career has settled into a series of easily classifiable grooves. There’s the good junk (Crank; Cellular); the slightly classier heist movies (The Bank Job; The Italian Job); and the absolute dreck sometimes redeemed by his presence and/or its own dreckiness (Death Race; War). But most importantly, there’s the Transporter movies, which for me render most of the rest of his movies as “that stuff he does in between Transporter movies,” and which seem to be the inspiration for the recent decision to sequelize Crank: it could be the next Transporter!
In the Transporter series, the Stath — that’s what they call him over in England, I’m told — plays Frank Martin, a former special ops bloke (of course!) and loner (what else?) who makes his money by delivering packages for unsavory characters (despite the fact that he seems continually reluctant to indulge said unsavory characters, who often use violent coercion to hire him). Frank has three business rules, which I am constantly committing to memory and then forgetting even though he talks about them constantly in all three movies: don’t use names; don’t change the deal; don’t look in the package. These are the rules that, if followed, would destroy the series, which relies on bad guys tracking down Frank Martin, Frank Martin finding out what or who he is delivering and its dire consequences, and he and/or the bad guys changing the deal accordingly.
Though Transporter 2 made seventy percent more than Transporter 1, Fox has let the franchise slip out of its hands and into the eager fists of Lionsgate (which undoubtedly pumped them in the air, and then punched them into the wall when they found out the Crank 2 trailer wouldn’t be ready in time to attach to the Transporter 3 prints). The result is the series’ return to its (presumably cheaper) European roots; the second installment took a gaudy trip to Miami, while this one takes Frank Martin on an international roadtrip of cities that can (again, I assume) be easily reproduced in one city.
In Transporter 3, the package is a lady hostage played by Natalya Rudakova, the poor man’s Olga Kurylenko (who herself is the poor man’s Milla Jovovich). Perhaps remembering that this hook was already used way back in the innocent days of Transporter 1, Transporter 3 also has a bonus, rather Crank-y second hook: both Stath and the lady are affixed with bracelets that will blow them to bits if they venture more than seventy-five feet from the Stath’s beloved car. I know it is his beloved car because the villain actually says at one point: “His beloved car will be his grave.”
Luc Besson, I love you. Did I mention that Luc Besson cowrites all of these movies with his buddy Robert Mark Kamen? “Poor man’s Milla Jovovich” might’ve given it away, but you’d be forgiven for holding out for “falls in love with precocious girl-child figure” which, confusingly, only kinda occasionally happens in Besson’s Transporter screenplays. This is the perfect job for Besson: write a bunch of ridiculous crap for people to say in between awesome fight scenes and chases that actually rival B-level Hong Kong action movies, which I mean as a compliment, but not in that way that gets all misty over Hong Kong action anything; I don’t really get Chow Yun-Fat’s alleged charisma but I get the living shit out of Statham.
He doesn’t quip much, but despite his gruffness, Statham completely avoids looking like a self-serious ass; faint traces of whimsy come out during the action scenes, such as when (of course!) the bad guy hires someone else to take over the driving job, and the Transporter must hustle to stay within seventy-five feet of the now-moving car. The fights in Transporter 3 aren’t series-bests, but even a second-tier melee (a.) takes place in a garage, near lots of hilarious fighting props, (b.) involves Stath using his shirt and tie as weapons, and (c.) ends with him fighting a big invincible fat guy who has been mysteriously waiting in the wings.
It has been pointed out, not unfairly, that Transporter 3 is lacking in the areas of Stath being attacked by guys brandishing axes and Stath finding off guys while covered in oil (the fuel kind, not the massage kind), both of which occur in both previous films. True, this is a disappointment; the lack of axes and oil fights is a departure for the series built on a study foundation of rock-solid routine. Fortunately, this can be easily rectified, as long as Transporter 4 involves Frank Martin delivering a trunk full of oil drums and suitcases full of axes. Until then, I plead with action fans: this weekend, go see Transporter 3 instead of its Lionsgate stablemate Punisher: War Zone, a movie whose sense of fun is based entirely on the explodability of prop heads. I work moderately hard for my money and see a lot of crappy movies that aren’t awesome at all; I deserve Transporter 4 by 2011.