The Luc Besson-produced The Transporter and its sequel Transporter 2 are by all means dumb action movies, according to any reasonable definition of "dumb" that I can imagine. But they are both a great deal of fun also, and I do not deny having a certain affection for dumb fun. Particularly in the case of the second film, which strips the concept of the movies - Jason Statham plays an incredibly efficient mover of any sort of product that needs to be moved with all due speed and protection - to the bare narrative core in service of a series of entirely outlandish setpieces that are nevertheless perfectly entertaining for a viewer of a certain mindset.

The third film in the House of Besson's franchise, imaginatively titled Transporter 3, is every bit as dumb as its predecessors, but - importantly - it is not nearly so much fun. The ingredients are mostly the same: Statham with his imposing build and ripped abs, cars that do things what cars shouldn't be able to do, a globe-trotting adventure with an unshakably Gallic mindset. The problem is that they're not present in the proper balance to the other ingredients that have always been with the series, but never until now in enough measure to actively harm the film: story and character.

Transporter 3, it turns out, is one chatty bastard, with a promising first half that gives way to a second half in which everybody spends a lot of time trying to figure out what is going on and where the villain is and how to stop him, instead of attending to the more important matter of blowing crap apart. Even more damningly, the script (written, as always, by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen) focuses an inordinate amount of attention on the bubbling internal drama of our hero, Frank Martin, who must decide between following his hallowed Rules (#1 - Never change the deal. #2 - No names. #3 - Never look in the package) and confronting an obviously immoral employer who has hired him to chauffeur the kidnapped daughter of a Ukrainian bureaucrat who needs some blackmailing (that's probably a "spoiler", but I dearly hope nobody could watch the film and not see it coming).

Frank isn't really the kind of character we expect to see given to introspection; Statham absolutely isn't the kind of actor for it. But I don't particularly object to the relative quality of the film's psychological notes, so much as the fact that they exist at all. The Transporter films are at their best when they traffic in consequence-free, physics-defying mayhem (this entry being no exception to that rule), and necessarily any time we spend in the company of our characters as characters is time wasted. Thankfully, the filmmakers have the sense to relegate most of the film's romantic subplot between Frank and his charge, Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) off-camera, save for some early flirtation: this is wise, given how difficult it would be to imagine Statham enjoying sex. Or indeed, to enjoy any pleasant activity. He's a teeth-gritting badass, and stepping outside of that comfort zone has never proven anything but deadly.

Now as for those action scenes that are the film's whole damn raison d'Γͺtre, they're pretty good, though not quite so good as they were in the earlier movies. In particular, the car-based chases are a bit pedestrian, if you'll forgive an inexcusably bad choice of words - the film does wring some fun out of its outlandish premise (Frank has been equipped with a bracelet that will blow him up if he gets more than 75 feet from his Audi A8), particularly in a sequence where Statham (or his double; although this was the only point where the actor did not do his own stunts, I am told) must tear ass after the car on a very small bicycle, but generally speaking the car chases aren't different from most of the car chases that you've seen in recent years. Oh, he's got it up on just the two left wheels? Ho-hum, wake me when he has it doing mid-air pirouettes.

The hand-to-hand sequences, choreographed for the third time by Cory Yuen, are much better, proving that as cool as quick kung-fu moves are when they're being performed by wiry Asians, they're way more impress when done by lumbering Brits. It's in these moments, all in the first 60 minutes of the movie, that Transporter 3 does something like justice to its forebears, and triumphs as a hugely entertaining bit of brain-rotting trash. Would that there were more of these! But I will take whatever Jason Statham fight sequences I can get, and be happy for them.

Stylistically, the film is pretty much par for the course; though perhaps, if my eyes do not deceive me, it is noticeably softer than the first two. Taking over the reigns for Yuen (the first) and Louis Leterrier (the second), the marvelously-named Olivier Megaton* doesn't do much to change what has been a successful formula, excepting that he has been saddled with a script that doesn't really lend itself to the same wall-to-wall anarchy that the other directors got to play with. Under his guidance, presumably, the editing in Transporter 3 is reasonably charming, anyway: much more conventionally easier to follow than the trend-setting work in the Jason Bourne films, there are still some cheeky editing tricks that serve mostly to emphasise the impact of fist on bone and steel on steel, in a way that speaks to the addled twelve-year-old boy hiding in the hearts of all men. For example: if seeing a big explosion from one angle is cool, is it not even cooler to see it from five angles in the space of one second? If you even thought about answering "yes", you are on the same wavelength as Olivier Megaton and his Transporter 3.

'tis pity that this is where the series must end (oh, God, let it end). It comes so close in so many key ways to being a perfectly magnificent terrible action picture, but there is far too much dross in between the action sequences, dragging the film to a halt. If you've got the audience getting impatient, your mindless trash isn't working right, and Transporter 3, for all that I loved its capacity to blow shit up real good, simply isn't mindless and trashy in the right ways.


*Born Olivier Fontana; his birthday was the 20th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb. How charmingly tacky.