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‘Transporter 3′

Besson gets behind a silly wheel

by Kaori Shoji

Luc Besson has taken it upon himself to build a little empire smack in the heart of the French film industry. It’s a close approximation to a French Hollywood, specifically an action-genre Hollywood — and its getting bigger everyday. For mindless, gratuitous violence, nonsensical plots and endless car chases (oui, le “Taxi” franchise!”) that are surely responsible for a significant percentage of global warming, Besson is your man in Europe. He writes, he directs, he produces — he has his finger lodged somewhere in almost every action movie coming out of the continent. Who would have thought that the man who made the eco-correct movie of the late 20th century (“Le Grand Bleu”) could morph into such a steel-and-tire crunching baddie? Oh well. The world changes, and so does Besson. But as far as the latest installment in the “Transporter” series is concerned, Besson is the best thing that ever happened.

For “Transporter 3″ he teams up (as writer and producer) with choreographer Corey Yuan (who also directed the very first “Transporter”) and disciple director Olivier Megaton (whose surname was adopted from the fact that this guy’s birthday coincides with the bombing of Hiroshima), and between the three of them, there’s precious little in the tightly wound 100-minute story that’s not explosively, deliciously, brain-cell-destroyingly ludicrous. The whole package is like a needless and addictive toy, coated with an enticing veneer of plasticky metal and hazardous to the body and to the environment in some cheap, toyish way. Yeah, Luc!

Besson and Co., are aided by the Transporter himself: Frank Martin (Jason Statham), who it seems, has added another 12 hours of gym time to his daily regimen in order to strut some extraordinary studishness, and we’re talking about an actor who already has one of the best physiques in the film industry.

Frank goes shirtless whenever he can — though he starts off clad in something nice and Armani-like, off comes the jacket and rrrip goes the buttons, and naturally the sequence is in slow-motion. (Statham’s abs deserve to be in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection featuring the wonders of modern design.) And to top it off, the man is an old-school action hero: he’s there to show us some action, not to act.

Trust Frank to choose violence over common sense, violence over conversation, over romance, sex, food, water. At one point in the story a leggy babe in a minidress asks Frank: “Am I not sexy?” and he answers, “Yeah, you’re sexy” in the tone of a man who’s been offered a deal on an insurance policy. Frank’s not a talker, he’s definitely not a thinker — he just wants to get behind the wheel of his beloved Audi and drive fast. He’s the best “transporter” of dangerous/dirty goods in the business and every henchman in the EU knows it.

This time, he’s coerced into a job he doesn’t want. The parcel is freckled, flame-haired Ukrainian vixen Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) who’s been kidnapped by the evil Johnson (Robert Knepper). Apparently, Valentina’s dad must say yes to a business deal or she dies, and Frank has to drive her from Marseilles to Odessa or he dies with her. Just to make sure, Johnson has attached bomb bracelets to their wrists, set to explode the minute they stray more than 22 meters from the car. Frank is OK with that as long as he gets the tires screeching on his Audi with just one hand on the wheel as he rains bullets on Johnson’s men, sent to annoy the hell out of him.

Valentina is a little distracting: A party animal who swills vodka like water, she seduces Frank with her faulty English allure (liberally peppered with the article “the,” which she pronounces “zeh”) — “Please, I want to feel zeh sex for one last time.” Whatever detours he takes however, are brief and quickly forgotten as he steps on the accelerator and drives into canyons, dives off cliffs, rams into freight trucks and glass buildings and brick walls. Be prepared to beg for zeh mercy in the zeh back seat.