Directed by: Corey Yuen
Starring: Jason Statham, Qi Shu, Matt Schulze, Francois Berleand, Ric Young
If we must have shaven-headed action heroes, then I'll take the ultra-cool sophistication of Jason Statham over the guttural street-thuggery of Vin Diesel any day of the week -- especially when Statham is showcased in a movie as agreeably over the top as Corey Yuen's The Transporter.
No, the movie doesn't make any more sense than XXX or Ballistic, but it's not overlong like the former, nor is it as sloppy as the latter. If anything, The Transporter may be even sillier than the others, but its silliness actually works in its favor -- so much so that I genuinely regret that the final cut of the film does not include the riotously absurd bit that appears in the trailer, where Statham redirects a missile by deflecting it with a pie tin. (The idea that someone found this point unbelievable while overlooking everything else in the film is pretty funny on its own.)
What makes The Transporter so much fun is the fact that it's cheerfully at one with its own goofiness. Any movie that dares to include the line, "He was a bastard, but he was my father," and allows it to be delivered with a straight face is hard to dislike. Does it matter that the action sequences are state-of-the-art? Not these days, no -- computer-controlled remote-camera setups and limitless CGI jiggery-pokery make that not such a big deal (even if XXX managed to screw up such things in its editing). Suffice to say that the action scenes in The Transporter are breathtakingly executed. What sets the film apart from other examples of Exploding Cinema is a combination of tone, inventiveness, cheekiness -- and Jason Statham.
Like last year's Kiss of the Dragon, Luc Besson's participation as co-writer and co-producer works in the film's favor, even though it's hard not to believe that a better film would have resulted had he also directed. That matters a little less here than it did with Kiss of the Dragon, with its slightly more serious tone. In both cases, though, Besson can be credited for creating a charismatic leading man, an appealing damsel in distress and delightfully lip-smacking villains.
Unlike the amateurish antics evidenced in Rob Cohen's XXX and Kaos' (what an apt name) Ballistic, The Transporter truly understands the requirements of its genre. Like its star, there's not an ounce of fat on its frame. It's just an engaging, straight-ahead actioner that delivers the goods.
Statham, so appealing in Snatch, plays Frank Martin, the transporter of the title. He's a no-nonsense, self-contained mercenary who specializes in moving things and people with maximum effectiveness. When the film opens, he's faced with a dilemma -- having contracted to serve as the getaway for three robbers, he finds himself unexpectedly faced with a fourth passenger. With cool detachment, Frank refuses to budge until the original contract is honored, leaving the gang leader no choice other than shooting the extraneous member and leaving the corpse behind. No question about it: the Transporter doesn't fool around. The big problem arises when Frank breaks one of his own rules and opens a "package" containing a kidnapped woman, Lai (Qi Shu), thereby not only becoming involved, but earning the murderous ire of the kidnapper (Matthew Schulze) and her father (Ric Young).
Statham proves that he has what it takes to carry a film -- and then some. There aren't that many actors who can manage to make the poker-faced claim that the 50,000 rounds of ammunition used to destroy his multi-million-dollar Mediterranean villa (supposedly paid for by -- ahem -- his military pension!) were the result of a mistake on the part of his assailants and not appear foolish. Statham never appears foolish -- not even when the script (as it often does) calls for him to arbitrarily remove his shirt, or asks him to slide around in quantities of oil in a beefcake variant of mud-wrestling with equally muscular bad guys! Yes, but is it art? No. And it's not supposed to be. It's just an expert actioner done with such class that it's a lot more fun than it probably ought to be.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke