An action franchise in motion tends to stay in motion, long after logic or box office should bring it to a screeching halt.

Case in point: the


series. The 2002 original featured budding tough guy Jason Statham as a legendary delivery man with a lead foot and an iron fist. It was a gritty, gripping film with a savory European flavor.

It's been all down-mountain since then.

Transporter 3

is a poorly paced, paint-by-numbers reproduction.

Statham is back as Frank Martin, the idealistic French mercenary who speaks softly and carries a big stickshift. And


has a great villain in Robert Knepper (T-Bag on TV's

Prison Break

). That should be enough for a formula sequel.

But director Olivier Megaton makes a muddle of this no-brainer. The fight scenes, in which Statham takes on 10 guys at a time while dressed in crisp business attire, look cartoonishly choreographed.

The lone driving stunt is so implausible that it appears to have been lifted from

The Love Bug


At one point, Statham chases down a sports car while pedaling madly on a kids' bike. Pathétique!

The plot: Statham is forced into an assignment that takes him from his base in Marseilles all across Europe. He's stuck with a passenger: the glum party girl Valentina (Natalya Rudakova). Both are fitted with bracelets that will explode if they venture more than 100 feet from the car. (Just for the purpose of consistency, shouldn't that be 30 meters?)

There's also a needlessly complicated subplot about a Ukrainian minister (Jeroen Krabbé), an environmental crusader who is being blackmailed into accepting highly toxic materials.

Statham as always is riveting, even in this dismayingly chatty action film padded with too much downtime.

None of those flaws, however, is likely to prevent

Transporter 4


Transporter 3 *1/2

Directed by Olivier Megaton. With Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, Robert Knepper and Jeroen Krabbé. Distributed by Lionsgate.

Running time

: 1 hour, 40 mins.

Parent's guide

: PG-13 (violence, sexual content, drug use)

Playing at

: area theaters