[29 September 2005]
The commentary track for The Transporter: Special Delivery Edition, the repackaged DVD of the recently sequelized cult favorite, mentions James Bond straight away. The first shot of the film is a luxurious pan of title character’s BMW, and the commentary participants—star Jason Statham and producer Steve Chasman—are quick to point out the parallel to similar car worship in that more upscale franchise. Then Frank Martin (Statham) appears on camera for the first time, and the actor cuts through any stray mythologizing by asking: “Who’s that funny-lookin’ fellow?”
These opening minutes establish the series as sort of quicker, cheaper version of Bond. Martin is self-employed, not a government agent (cuts down on sets and extras), and, when pressed, he’s more about driving and fisticuffs than hails of bullets or massive explosions (think of all the fight choreography that can be afforded when you decide not to blow up, say, an oil refinery). He’s less suave than Bond, but he’s also less lethal. Many action sequences concentrate on his ability to disarm enemies; when he does participate in gun battles, he mostly shoots to wound.
Perhaps this is because Frank isn’t hired as a fighter, but a delivery man. In the opening sequence—which, as in the Bond films, has no direct bearing on the subsequent story—we see him as a freelance getaway driver for a pack of hapless bank robbers. As they yell and curse, Frank stays cool. And while Bond plays with the idea of the lone hero (especially in the last outing, Die Another Day , where he is abandoned to die at the beginning of the film), he’s always surrounded by women, bosses, and gadget gurus. Martin is authentically solo.
The formula seems simple: the taciturn, morally neutral pro becomes personally involved in one of his “jobs.” Martin saves the occasional love interest or cute kid (although I suppose all of Miami becomes his concern by proxy in the sequel). And his movie trades in ‘80s-‘90s American blow-‘em-up clichés: someone notes it’s “too quiet” before destruction ensues; computer hacking is last-minute; cars blow up on contact. Even so, a few creative sequences render The Transporter 90 minutes of more or less crackerjack B-movie fun.
Because of its pleasing array of fights and chases, The Transporter is well suited to watching with commentary. The pleasures here are primarily visual, as Martin prides himself on verbal economy. Still, the commentary has the usual flaws, describing scenes and characters in a rudimentary, near-literal fashion, with the occasional slice of interesting trivia—we find out, for example, that distressed damsel Oi Shu is an action star in the Asian version of Charlie’s Angels (2001).
The central bonus feature, though, is a bunch of extended action sequences, also with commentary. They are all expanded versions of sequences from the final cut, and Statham, Chasman, and fight director Corey Yuen (through a translator) comment on these cuts, which were made for the concern of both rating (the final film is PG-13) and pacing (Chasman points out that several of the action sequences are bunched together, and could feel numbing if they played too long). Statham disagrees, suggesting the here-and-there cuts wound the flow of the choreography.
Though the filmmakers don’t mention it, these fights and chases (even in cut-down form) also reiterate the idea of a tighter, scrappier version of Bond. Whereas 007 action sequences tend to be about scale and scenery, The Transporter sequences tighten their focus. Several of the best fights take place in cramped spaces: the passages between parked buses and the stairwell of a home.
The Transporter films are pastiches, then, to be sure: of Bond, of bad action movies, and of good kung fu movies. But filmmakers Louis Leterrier and Luc Besson know the hows and whys of serial borrowing. This unpretentious mastery of B-movie scope should keep Frank Martin in business for another film. Even when the Transporter films go over the top in action, their goals are modest and, therefore, fully accomplished.