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Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008 01:52 am

Transporter is a silly, but enjoyable thrill ride

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I have to give Jason Statham credit; he looks great kicking people in the face. In this third installment in the popular Transporter series he returns as Frank Martin, messenger extraordinaire who specializes in delivering packages and people to dangerous destinations. This time out, he’s been commissioned to escort a sexy young thing (Natalya Rudakova) from Marseilles to Odessa while a group of eco-terrorists who’ve kidnapped her blackmail her father (Jeroen Krabbe) into doing business with them. To make sure Martin and his reluctant passenger are inseperable, both have been outfitted with bracelets that will explode if they end up 75 feet away from their car.

Yep, it’s all real silly but it doesn’t really matter. The purpose of these films is to deliver high-concept thrills which Statham and director Olivier Megaton do with glee. They come up with all sorts of imaginative ways to separate their hero from his ride, all of which fail in the most spectacular way imaginable. Statham is very good at all this and frankly he’s far too good for material of this sort. Sure, he can chop and sock with the best of them, but he’s a fine actor too. Check out The Italian Job and The Bank Job for proof. Here’s a guy who’s capable of far more than running, jumping and losing his shirt and it’s time he starred in a movie that requires him to carry it for his acting chops, not the karate variety.

That being said, it’s hard to imagine any modern action star pulling off a film like this. Van Damme and Segal are past their prime and Statham is the only one left to fill this void. Thankfully, he has a Steve McQueen sort of cool about him and you can tell that he isn’t taking himself or the action too seriously. This only adds to the fun though, truth be told, I hope for the sake of Statham’s career that Martin has made his final delivery.

Four Christmases is what I like to call a paycheck movie. There’s far too much talent and good judgment on board here for any in the veteran cast to think that that script they were handed could have been made into anything decent. If you’ve ever wondered if five separate Oscar winners can make a sow’s ear of a script into a passable movie, your answer is right here.

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon star as Brad and Kate, a young couple who have made excuses to skip their families’ holiday celebrations each year. However, circumstances arise that force them to attend the Yuletime festivities at their divorced parents’ homes, which means four helpings of dysfunction are on tap for this duo in denial. Brad’s father (Robert Duvall) and his cage-fighting brothers (Tim McGraw and Jon Favreau) who use him for a punching bag, get things off to a broad start while a visit to Kate’s oversexed mother (Mary Steenbrugen) continues this trip through movie hell. Sissy Spacek does her best to enliven the third stop on this misguided travelogue as Brad’s nymphomaniac mother, while Jon Voight rounds things out as Kate’s sensible dad who tries to inject a bit of sincere fatherly advice long after this production has jumped the tracks.

The humor’s crude, the slapstick’s broad and it’s all beneath the performers and the audience. This is a Jekyll and Hyde movie that tries to combine crude comedy with heartwarming moments devoted to portraying familial love, none of which come off as remotely convincing. Here’s hoping the members of this talented cast redeem themselves in their next films as they do nothing but earn a lump of coal for this effort.

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