by HELEN GEIB
A favorite topic of discussion among film buffs is movie series where the sequel is superior to the original film. I’ve been citing Transporter 2 since it came out and now that I’ve seen the third film, the series will do double duty. The formula hasn’t changed, the main character is the same (and played by the same actor), and the sequels don’t add unusually compelling new characters or settings. The filmmaking is simply getting better with each entry.
Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is the titular transporter. A transporter is basically a professional driver plus, the plus being thinking and fighting. Frank adheres to a strict personal code of conduct when on the job; legality is optional. Not optional is that he drives his own car. That rule is the first of four strong threads that connect the first film with its sequels. The other three are Frank’s sharp-looking black suit (his uniform – it coordinates nicely with his black Audi), his unlikely friendship with genial small town police inspector Tarconi (Francois Berleand), and Cory Yuen’s fight choreography.
Frank’s attachment to his car is literalized to provide the premise. In a plot device reminiscent of movies set in futuristic prisons, he spends most of the film wearing a high-tech wristband that will explode if he and his car become separated by more than a few hundred yards. The constraint inspired the filmmakers to come up with several great action sequences where Frank must get back to, stay with, or bring along with him his car; naturally, always in the face of ingeniously-manipulated adverse circumstances.
Frank’s attachment to his suit provides the film’s – and the series’ – best running joke. The filmmakers are determined to get his shirt off as often as possible (how else would they be able to show off all those hours Statham spends in the gym?), while Frank is determined to maintain his professional decorum. The sequels have a lot of fun playing off the conflict. The second film staged a big fight scene where Frank’s shirt was gradually ripped to shreds by his antagonist; this film stages a big fight scene where Frank carefully disrobes so he can use the garments as weapons against multiple antagonists. It’s one of the best scenes in the picture: the gimmick enlivens the action and the joke lightens the mood.
Inspector Tarconi and Yuen’s choreography were most of the reasons the first film was worth watching. Their relative importance has declined as the other elements have successively improved in the sequels, but their value to the franchise remains high. I would not like the franchise nearly as well as I do if not for Tarconi; I’m attached to the character and enjoy Berleand’s performance, and his frequent appearances provide a needed respite from the intense pitch of the main storylines.
The Ukrainian young woman (played by Natalya Rudakova) who is the object of Frank’s chivalric and sexual interest betrays the influence of producer and co-writer Luc Besson: she has the body of a model, the costuming of a prostitute, and raccoon eyes. Whenever a woman enters a Besson picture wearing too much eyeliner and mascara, you can bet she’ll spend much of the rest of the film with black streaks running down her cheeks. Transporter 3 is no exception, but overall the character is one of Besson’s less irritating female creations.