“The Transporter” makes it possible for us to establish clear levels of foolishness in action-adventure movies. Some are merely unlikely or implausible, and others improbable; a few reach the idiotic level, and a couple the truly moronic. We can now state definitively, though, that the final, most elevated level of stupidity in such pictures is best described as Bessonian. If that wasn’t clear after “La Femme Nikita,” “The Fifth Element” and “The Professional,” it certainly became so with “The Messenger,” which actually attempted to turn Joan of Arc into a “Cutthroat Island” sort of heroine (though one with supernatural voices in her head); and now the French answer to Jerry Bruckheimer, Luc Besson, actually moves beyond that fiasco with a film so utterly absurd, so thoroughly obsessed with style at the expense of substance, that it is quite literally incoherent and laughable, though very slickly made. Besson didn’t direct “The Transporter”–he handed that duty over to Hong Kong maestro Cory Yuen (“Lethal Weapon 4,” “Romeo Must Die”). But the picture–an idiotic collection of chases, fights and explosions very loosely strung together by a harebrained plot–is Bessonian from beginning to end, a synthesis of cliches and absurdities that seems positively decadent in its cinematic flash and emptiness.
The story bears little scrutiny. The hero is Frank Martin (Jason Statham), a British ex-special forces fellow, who lives in a seaside mansion on the French Mediterranean and keeps himself in fine wine and other necessities by hiring himself out as a mercenary driver to bank robbers and other such folk in need of quick, efficient, close-lipped transport. Martin’s self-controlled existence is altered when he’s hired to deliver a duffel bag to a yuppie bad-guy (Matt Schulze) with a vicious attitude and an army of heavily-muscled, gun-toting minions. Breaking one of his own rules by looking inside the package, he finds a kidnapped Chinese girl (Shu Qi); and presently he’s on the lam with her after the villains have literally blown up his car and house. What follows has something to do with the girl’s evil father (Ric Young), who’s apparently smuggling Chinese into Europe to serve as modern-day slaves; but the shambles of a script by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen never manages to clarify how or why. What it does offer are plenty of opportunities for Statham’s brawny hero to engage in one-on-one (and often one-on-many) fights with nasties. The most absurd, mirth-producing of these is a ludicrous sequence in which Martin engages a band of baddies after coating himself in what appears to be diesel fuel–a sequence which is like a wacked-out kung-fu version of mud wrestling. By the close, when our hero is parachuting from a plane onto a convoy of tractor-trailer trucks, the movie has gone completely off the deep end into lunacy-land and become nothing more than a glorification of squealing tires, lip-smacking villains and nonsensical escapes.
What saves “The Transporter” from being a complete loss is its physical production, which is very glossy, with nice Mediterranean scenery, and a broad but likable performance by Francois Berleand as a Columbo-like French police inspector suspicious of Martin who eventually assists him: his laid-back, rumpled turn at least provides some breathing space from the otherwise incessant, ear-splitting action thrust on us by Yuen. Certainly Statham offers no consolation; while it’s initially impressive that he can get through the picture without bursting out laughing, that accomplishment is diminished by the fact that he seems virtually incapable of moving his facial muscles at all. Schulze, conversely, masticates the scenery all too rabidly, but even he seems a piker compared to the weird-looking Young; Qui is merely lackluster.
The only place this brainless Besson artifact will transport you is to the highest realms of unintentional hilarity.