Friday, May 23, 2014

Transporter 3 (2008)

Director: Oliver Megaton                               Writers: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Film Score: Alexandre Azaria                        Cinematography: Geovanni Fiore Coltellacci
Starring: Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, François Berléand and Robert Knepper

The Transporter finds love? I suppose it was bound to happen. This is another enjoyable outing with Luc Besson and Jason Statham in Transporter 3. I was fairly disappointed in the last film being set in Miami. I felt that it really took away from the character of the original film. Thankfully, this film restores the European setting that made the first film so great. In many ways, however, this is a much more intimate story--if you can say that about an action/adventure film--than it’s predecessors. Rather than a wild chase across country, Statham and Natalya Rudakova are prisoners in Statham’s car, bound to a destination the bad guy is keeping a secret until the last possible moment. French director Oliver Fontana, who renamed himself Megaton, would go on to work with Besson again in Taken 2 with Liam Neeson and is currently working on the third film in that franchise.

The film begins on a freighter ship. Two employees, looking for liquor, stumble upon a shipping container full of highly toxic waste that kills the men instantly. From there the scene shifts to Jason Statham and police inspector François Berléand fishing in the waters off Marseille while David Atrakchi and his female passenger break through customs nearby in a black Audi and outrun the police. Next, villain Robert Knepper makes a call to environmentalist Ukrainian minister Jeroen Krabbe to coerce him into allowing the business he’s representing to import the waste though the port of Odessa and dump it in Ukraine. Things all come together that night while Statham is asleep in front of his TV set and Atrakchi smashes his car into the living room. It turns out he is a friend of Statham’s, and the first fight scene comes in a flashback as Statham remembers refusing a job that Knepper wants him to do and offers him Atrakchi instead. After putting his friend in an ambulance he discovers Natalya Rudakova in the back seat and she warns him too late about the bracelets she and Atrakchi are wearing. As the ambulance pulls away from the house, Atrakchi’s blows up.

The next thing Statham knows, he’s waking up with a bracelet on his own wrist and instructions to drive the girl where Knepper tells him. No names, no idea what’s in the trunk, just the way Statham usually likes it. And so, in lieu of a bullet in the head, he takes the job and gradually works his way east, all the while attempting to get information out of Rudakova, who clearly knows more than she’s letting on. Rudakova is another variation of Besson’s leggy blonde, a Russian that Besson discovered styling hair in a New York salon. This time she’s a freckled-faced redhead with green eyes who takes a long time to warm up to Statham, and when she finally does she won’t tell him anything unless he acts on his mutual desire for her. It’s a fascinating insight into the highly moral character of Frank Martin and one that is certainly unexpected as he breaks nearly all his rules. The fourth installment of the series has yet to go into production, but I’m curious to see how Besson will handle this relationship in the future.

As always, there is plenty of close-quarter combat, five against one, a dozen against one, and director Fontana does a nice job with the sets. The second fight is in a high-tech mechanic’s garage in Munich. Plenty of blunt instruments to grab hold of as Fontana mixes in slow motion with the live action. Throughout the film Statham uses his clothing, jacket, shirt, tie and belt, to help him in his hand-to-hand combat. The location shots are also terrific, especially Budapest, where someone jumps into his car and attempts to blow Statham up by driving away. There is also a great car chase through the Eastern European countryside. The finale, incongruously taking place on a train, is a very impressive piece of work as well. Robert Knepper makes a nice villain, and François Berléand’s role is mercifully played straight. Statham’s role is also much less the superhero that he was in the second film, which again is a major improvement. Transporter 3 is not nearly as action packed as its predecessors, which may disappoint some fans, but the emphasis on character makes it a welcome addition to the franchise.

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