Sunday, May 10, 2009
Transporter 3 is an essential entry in the franchise, assuming you have been waiting for the Transporter to fall in love with the least charismatic girl in the world. Actually, their chemistry is so bad that it's more like he falls in like, or falls in tolerate. By the end, he can sort of stand her, and she's goaded and pestered him into having grudging sex with her that he doesn't completely hate.
The problem is not that she's useless, annoying, dumb, shallow, and constantly distracted by booze and pills, it's that the actress playing her fails to make any of this fun. A charming girl could make us like this idiot, and that would have been kind of brilliant, the perfect love interest for a franchise so wonderfully, unapologetically brainless. Unfortunately, Natalya Rudakova is not that charming girl.
A fan's first thought might be, who cares? After all, we don't watch this for the story, and the slo-mo easy-listening-scored love scenes in the first Transporter movie were painful too. But those scenes felt more compartmentalized. You could grit your teeth and get through them, and they never felt like they dominated the movie. Unfortunately, in Transporter 3, we are stuck in a car with the girl for most of the movie, and worse yet, there is nothing to occupy our attention but their dull banter about food and the green-screen backgrounds quietly sailing past the windows.
One of Luc Besson's strengths is setting up simple but high stakes dramatic situations with crisp, economical pacing that quickly pulls you in. This strength is not in evidence here, where we jump around to various situations we don't care about before finally meeting the Transporter fishing. The first big fight scene is thrown away in a flashback, which is a clever and subtle way to sap out what little tension there is -- in these movies, we know the Transporter will always win a fight, but watching it when it's already over just makes the danger even less significant. (In an odd touch, several henchman bones are obviously snapped in this sequence, but conspicuously lacking the crunching sound effects that would make them satisfying -- a PG-13 concession perhaps?)
The pacing is leaden, the action scenes are too few and too brief, and at least two-thirds of the movie (though it feels like more) is the Transporter driving his car while talking to boring people. The fight scenes are well-choreographed, but they are too short, and they're shot and cut in showy, annoying ways that make them less exciting instead of more.
For a franchise that revolves around a man driving a car, the car chases have never been the series' strongest suit. The first movie's first scene was its only decent car chase, and the second movie had several hilarious car gags, but no extended car action that was actually impressive. In this installment, new director Olivier Megaton seems to have pioneered new ways to make speeding cars look dull. Either that, or he shot a bunch of terrible footage and tried to save it in the cutting room with lame and desperate editing tricks. Here are some tips for him in case next time he wants to make his car chases good:
1) The best way to add excitement is not to get as far away from the cars as you can -- don't shoot the whole thing from a helicopter.
2) When you're choosing a bad guy car to chase the hero's black luxury sedan, maybe don't select a nearly identical black luxury sedan, especially if you're going to shoot the whole thing from a helicopter. I shouldn't have to constantly check the Audi and Mercedes logos to tell whose car I'm looking at.
3) I can tell when you speed up the footage. Are you trying to disguise the fact that you shot the whole thing at 10 miles per hour, or are you just fast-forwarding it for me because you know how boring it is? If it's the latter, then thanks, I guess, but maybe next time have the cars do more cool shit than swerve at each other on an empty road.
4) Two-wheeling between the trucks was a nice, appropriately stupid-in-a-good-way kind of idea. Now just don't surround it with worthless filler and then we'll have something.
On the plus side, my fondness for the first two Transporter movies has increased as I'm reminded how difficult it is to do fun, low-budget action. This car-bound, claustrophobic exercise made me wonder if they ran out of money.
There are a few decent set pieces here, including a well-conceived but half-assedly executed bike/car chase, a nonsensical but sorta clever underwater predicament, and a climax on a train that is hilariously awesome and far superior to the lousy airplane fight at the end of Transporter 2. Unfortunately, they're buried by the movie's many flaws.