Transporter 3

Remember “The Transporter”? It was a silly but effective high-energy butt-kicker starring Jason Statham as a taciturn military-trained fighter named Frank whose skills included evasive driving and the efficient delivery of illicit goods. It was good, dumb fun, and it was wall-to-wall action. “Transporter 2” lost a lot of momentum but was still generally watchable.

Can you guess where I’m going with this? Yes, we come now to “Transporter 3,” a stiflingly dull and useless caper that’s all the more aggravating when you recall how giddy the original film was.

Here is a movie that manages to go wrong at almost every turn. It is, for starters, an action film that has only three or four legitimate action scenes. This is perplexing in any event, but especially for a franchise that began as pure action and nothing else. Taking the action out of “Transporter” is like taking the sugar out of cotton candy: pointless, ill-advised, and liable to lead to bankruptcy.

This time around, Frank is coerced by a baddie named Johnson (Robert Knepper) to drive his own car all over Europe with a mysterious woman named Valentina (newcomer Natalya Rudakova) as his passenger. The material Frank is transporting is supposedly in the trunk, but smart people realize that Valentina herself is the real cargo. To prevent escape, she and Frank are both wearing bracelets that will explode if they move more than 75 feet away from the car.

All of which sounds good enough for a “Transporter” movie, and the screenplay is by the same duo behind the first two films, Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Yet for some reason, the story’s focus is on Frank and Valentina — and Valentina is a singularly irritating character. She is petulant, childish, and devoid of all personality. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a flatter, more vacant major character in a movie. The worst part: Her interactions with Frank comprise half the running time.

This is baffling. Believe me, we do not care what Frank does when he’s not driving fast or beating people up. Why would we care about his obligatory, implausible romance with this plank of Russian-speaking wood? Show us more action! The action we do get, directed by French fake-name-user Olivier Megaton, with fight choreography by the great Corey Yuen, is perfectly suitable. The problem is that there simply isn’t enough of it. I can’t imagine what they were thinking. What a terrible waste.

D (1 hr., 40 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, moderate violence, very mild sexuality.)