Jason Statham's Death Race was released in August and I went without shame, crackled in glee at the nonsensical carnage, and enjoyed, assuming it would be the warm-up to winter's real Jason Statham action treat: Transporter 3. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Believe it or not, Death Race is actually the better of the two films. Transporter 3 has its intermittent highs but it's ultimately a crashing disappointment.
Now for the record, I fucking love Transporter 2. Not only does it have Jason Statham at his most impossibly badass, but it has action sequences so surreal and ridiculous as to be among the funniest film scenes of the decade, martial arts galore, a hilariously over-the-top evil plot by an equally hilarious Eurotrash villain, one of the greatest henchwomen ever in Lola the Lingerie Assassin, hysterical cheeseball dialogue, and Amber Valletta. It's so bad it's good, yes, but it's so good via its badness that I think I love it without a shred of irony. It's extravagant action packaged exactly right for the 21st century.
And its sequel Transporter 3 starts decently enough itself - we get our first kills a minute or two in as a couple innocent bystanders accidentally stumble across the villain's plan, we meet Jason Statham, it's flowing. Then Statham gets in his first brawl and something horrible happens - shakeycam.
Yes, that excrementitious specter of The Bourne Supremacy rears its ugly head yet again. First it vomited its bile all over my beloved James Bond series in Quantum of Solace - a movie I enjoyed, but for the first time since 1962's Dr. No it was a 007 I enjoyed in spite of most the action scenes rather than because of them - and now it's attacked Frank Martin.
My grin immediately fell as the camera began wildly chucking and convulsing, ruining the fight choreography, with the editor helpfully cutting twelve times a second to fully obscure the vomitous mass. A sad day for action fans everywhere. Casino Royale and Iron Man blissfully ignored the shakeycam fad, but Transporter 3 is fully infected. Some of the chase sequences escape relatively unscathed but the martial arts battles are brutalized.
For comparison, look at the opening brawl from Transporter 2. The camera is either static within its shot or smoothly pans and tilts to capture the action, the shot cutting no more frequently than it needs to - it's a thing of beauty. So why and how did objectively good filmmaking become passé? All I can say is fuck you Bourne Supremacy, you ruined everything.
Back to Transporter 3, our villain is an eco-terrorist / rogue capitalist who plans to coerce a European politician into signing a bill permitting the dumping of radioactive waste all over the country. He kidnaps the politician's redheaded daughter and Jason Statham, straps bombs to both, and forces Statham to transport her to the drop point under threat of detonation. What he didn't count on is the fact that Jason Statham is a badass martial arts superhero who kills his henchman and fucks up his plan real bad like.
(Curiously, as a side note, this is one of several 2008 films with eco themes, from the wonderful (WALL·E), to the mediocre (Transporter 3), to the apocalyptically awful (The Happening). Kudos to Al Gore; only a few years back his eco themes were sequestered to their own documentary, now they've permeated fiction.)
This plot begets the film's second problem though. She's freckled, she has red hair, she can barely speak English, and her name is Natalya Rudakova, the truly awful actress playing the kidnapped daughter. Action movie romantic interests tend to be forgettable at worst, but this performance is so hideous that it effectively grinds the movie to a screeching halt every time she opens her mouth, which is unfortunately a fucking lot seeing as she's in the car with Statham the whole movie. Did I mention that she's obviously not fluent in English and is just phonetically sounding out her dialogue?
Never mind what I said about Thandie Newton in W., in Miss Rudakova we have found 2008's definitive Razzie for Worst Actress. Now I've never cast a big-budget action movie, but I fucking refuse to believe that they couldn't have found an attractive Russian redhead who can fucking speak English and act. Natalya Rudakova is awful and annoying, and since this is a PG-13 franchise she doesn't even have the common decency to get her tits out.
Outside of the shakeycam and the politician's daughter, the film is fine, a mildly amusing action yarn. Jason Statham is badass beyond the furthest reaches of human reckoning and certainly the one man I would go gay for, and there are a few neat action sequences, especially one scene where a bad guy tries to steal Statham's car and kidnap the girl and Statham has to catch up to his own car on foot. But the shakeycam and that annoying chick permeate and undermine everything. Transporter 2 will live on forever as one of the decade's finest, but it is with a single, masculine tear and a heavy heart that I am forced to give Transporter 3 the thumbs down it deserves.
1 Star out of 5