This reboot of the “Transporter” franchise is precisely the sort of movie for which the term Eurotrash was invented—loud, slick, vacuous and stupid. But what else would one expect from a picture with Luc Besson’s name attached to it?
Ed Skrein steps in for Jason Statham, who starred in the initial trilogy, to play Frank Martin, former soldier turned driver-for-hire for passengers with lots of dough who need protection. Frank is introduced meeting his father, Frank Sr. (Ray Stevenson), outside the British consulate on the French Riviera, where the roguish, fast-talking fellow has just ended a career as a spy posing as an Evian salesman. After dropping Dad off, Frank proceeds to arrange his next job, for femme fatale Anna (Loan Chabanol). Unbeknownst to him, she’s an avenging angel of sorts, plotting—along with her confederates Gina (Gabriella Wright), Maria (Tatiana Pajkovic) and Qiao (Wenxia Yu)—to destroy the prostitution ring headed by brutal Russian mobster Karasov (Radivoje Bukvic) that had forced them all into the business. Their plan is to rob him and his two partners Imasova (Lenn Kudrjawizki) and Yuri (Yuri Kolokolnikov) in an intricate, multi-staged heist, for which they need Frank’s services both as driver and as muscle-man. To insure his cooperation, they kidnap Frank Sr. and threaten to let him die of the poison they’ve administered unless his son does their bidding.
What follows is a series of alternating car chases and martial arts fights. The former involve innumerable police cars crashing, tumbling and exploding in their vain effort to catch Frank’s Audis, and the latter him dispatching gangs of ruffians while the girls transfer the mobsters’ bankrolls into their own accounts. The final confrontation is aboard Karasov’s yacht, where Frank and the girls are compelled to come to rescue Frank Sr., who’s been freed but kidnapped once again. (His track record in the department certainly suggests that it was time for the old guy to retire.) It winds up with lots of corpses and a predictable showdown between Frank and Karasov on a picturesque Mediterranean cliff, though a postscript shows that Anna proves generous with the loot.
This is all totally ludicrous stuff, of course, but the makers—scripters Besson, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, director Camille Delamarre, cinematographer Christophe Collette and editor Julien Rey—recognize that, and so present it in cartoonish style, with garish colors, kinetic cutting and dialogue exchanges that could pass for wit only in a less-than-mediocre comic book. Unfortunately, except for a few instances in which they manage a bit of invention (the use of sliding drawers in a fight scene, a car that soars through an airplane boarding tunnel to wind up inside the terminal), the speeding vehicles and flailing arms and legs get tedious quickly, and the tendency to interrupt the action with brief slo-mo inserts is misguided. Moreover, the script’s underlying condemnation of the horrors of human trafficking seems more than a mite hollow when so much of the footage is devoted to showing women in various states of undress, often posing enticingly or gyrating suggestively; appealing to the viewers’ prurient inclinations while pretending to condemn the exploitation of women is tasteless at best.
The picture also suffers from Skrein’s lack of charisma. One could certainly express doubt about Statham’s acting ability—it wasn’t until the recent “Spy” that he showed he was even capable of spoofing his own stone-faced, taciturn manner—but it was undeniable that he had presence. Skrein is handsome in a male-model way, but his inexpressiveness feels more like blandness than strength. He gets by in the heavily-edited action sequences, but when thrown on his own—when forced to act or react, or deliver lines—he’s fairly nondescript. By contrast Stephenson appears to be having a ball, even if Frank Sr.’s extravagant bonhomie appears to amuse him more than it does us. The villains sneer and glare the way Besson’s always do, while the women are all eye candy and little more. The effort to make the audience care about them is fruitless, particularly in the absurd plot twist in which Maria suffers a serious gunshot wound, only to be patched up MacGyver-style by Frank Sr. and to reappear the next day as an integral part of the last stage of Anna’s revenge scheme. On the visual side the movie has been laid out like a succession of glossy magazine spreads, boasting the phony elegance of such material. But the locations are certainly attractive, and the localities apparently had little problem with the makers choreographing their destructive car chases in the streets. Presumably no stuntmen were harmed during filming.
Reboots are replacing sequels nowadays; they require even less imagination. Certainly that’s the case with this “Transporter,” which may be “Refueled” but still seems to be running on fumes.