“Transporter 3" -- the latest installment of cinema’s extended meditation on the hidden perils of overnight delivery -- stars bullet-headed Jason Statham, who bears the Mark of the Modern Bond, which is to say his veins are pumped with ice water and his soul is in perpetual traction. His character’s straightforward name, Frank Martin, is just as chilly and soulless.
If you have not seen the “Transporter” pictures, I would like to say there is so much mythology here you’ll need an explainer and flow chart. But everything is as evident as it sounds, and that, alas, is the appeal of the franchise. In an age of HBO series with plots of Dickensian complexity and action heroes so coiled into a hot rage they can barely stoop to quip, Frank Martin is the no-bones Teamster of action heroes, doing the same job always, moving new packages by old rules.
But one question: Why hire Frank Martin?
In this newest “Transporter,” he is not out of work or tired, but he is fishing a lot. He watches fishing on TV when he is not fishing. Bad Men Who Want to Move a Bad Package come to him, but he refers them to an associate, who is killed because of incompetence (and drives into Frank’s living room to let him know the job isn’t going so well).
Meanwhile, the leader of the bad men -- balding, leering, vaguely Eastern European, somehow connected to the environmental movement -- goes directly to Frank Martin and demands that he deliver the package instead.
Frank Martin is beaten up when he resists. His wrist is strapped with a bracelet that explodes if he strays 75 feet from his car, which holds the package. The package, we learn, is Ukrainian beauty Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), also outfitted with one of these bracelets. But things go awry.
Which brings me back to: Why do Europeans still refer to Frank Martin as the most effective express-mail service on the continent? This is the third “Transporter” movie. Beyond their impressive ability to double as greatest-hits packages of contemporary action-flick cliches and the lingual contortions some members of their casts perform to say things like “conglomerate,” these films are reminders not to hire Frank Martin.
If you hired him, there is a good chance you have exploded by now. He killed you, or the package was damaged, or your insurance company is asking about that train car you vaporized.
Maybe they enjoy the company of Statham. “Transporter 3" isn’t much of anything, but two or three times it turns into a diced balletic aria of kicks and punches (choreography by Corey Yuen) in which a dozen men take on Statham, surrounding him with lead pipes in hand, patiently waiting their turn to take a swing. It’s hard not to smile.
The best sequences involve Martin’s inventive ability to stay within 75 feet of his car, but otherwise, it’s the charismatic unruffled dexterity in the face of impossible odds that rivets. Indeed, Martin says it better: A friend explains a fondness for Jerry Lewis, and Martin counters: “Anyone can fall down and get a laugh, but a real genius does it while drinking and smoking.”
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, some sexual content and drug material
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: In general release