'The Transporter Refueled' Should Actually Be the Transporter, Rejected
An overly familiar pile of action movie clichés lacking the one element -- Jason Statham -- that made the original franchise worthwhile
The Transporter: RefueledDirector: Camille Delamarre
Cast: Ed Skrein,Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol, Gabriella Wright, Tatjana Pajković, Wenxia Yu, Radivoje Bukvić
Studio: Relativity Media
US date: 2015-09-04 (General release)
UK date: 2015-09-04 (General release)
They’re calling it a Transporter film, but by doing so, The Transporter: Refueled has a lot to live up to. It's another installment (a prequel, for a proposed new trilogy, yawn) in the successful international action series. Creator Luc Besson worked behind the scenes (as he did on the previous three films and the recent TV series) while turning the directing chores over to one of his faithful auteurs, Brick Mansions’ Camille Delamarre.
The premise is still the same. The title character makes his living as a “transporter” of “goods” for various nefarious folks. He lives by a set of strict rules (which always end up being violated), he never lets things get persona (ditto) and he tries to stay out of the "big picture" trouble that always seems to follow him wherever his latest assignment or mission takes him.
There are other overly familiar elements here, too, issues that turn the potential into something pitiful. We are (naturally) dealing with an Eastern European baddie (Radivoje Bukvić) whose thick accent and rough ways merge with a lack of legitimate security checks in the French Riviera that allow him to take over the prostitution side of crime. As a result, a quartet of similarly styled call girls (no need to list them, they have no personality or individual character traits) steal some of his money and want the newest Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) to "transport" them.
Things get fudgy when the ladies kidnap our hero's daddy, Frank Martin, Sr. (Ray Stevenson as the lamest ex-spy ever) to force his hand in helping them with -- you guessed it -- a big picture problem that turns the narrative from a simple game of car chase cat and mouse (with lots of product placement for fashionable super cars) into a revenge flick filled with firefights and fisticuffs. The latter elements are actually borderline acceptable, since Delamarre avoids much of the modern shaky cam over-editing in his action scenes. What he can't do is make up for a core concept that completely undermines this entire project.
The problem is Jason Statham. His chrome domed machismo hangs heavy over The Transporter: Refueled, constantly reminding you that he's not present and that poor Mr. Skrein is no substitute. It was the Transporter films that made Statham an international superstar, and while he allowed to leave a franchise once its viability is determined (and Transporter 3 buried it), Besson's decision to bring the character back is a major mistake. The recent TV series showed that. This film definitely uncovers that flaw.
Statham is the reason anything in any of the Transporter series works. From his buff body swagger to his human adrenal gland dynamic, he's someone the audience can root for while still feeling afraid of, and for, him. Skrein has none of this. Statham also comes across as someone who can handle himself in all manner of dangerous situations. Skrein? Not so much. Since Besson has used these films as a kind of amateur auteur litmus test, calling up Delamarre makes sense.
But Statham was the ultimate spectacle, an "almost can't believe he's human" hunk that owned the screen from the second Guy Ritchie gave him his break. Now, he's been abandoned (apparently, the producers couldn't find enough zeroes at the end of his paycheck to lure him back) and replaced, hopefully, for another long haul. It's like realizing that Taken would work get as well as the story of Liam Nesson's early years, and then hiring someone new to replace his gruff, middle-aged gravitas.
Even if you remove Statham from the mix, this movie has major issues. It's misogynistic to the point of a hate crime, the prostitutes are reduced to extras in a Robert Palmer video that never was. They are only good for one thing (or two, if you add "manipulation" to "man candy") and are complete and utter ciphers. And yet, we're supposed to hope for their success against the villain.
Similarly, Stevenson tries his best to breathe some life into his byplay with Skrein. Some of it works. Most of its falls as flat as the suspense and thrill levels.
Indeed, the biggest problem for fans will be a sense of over familiarity mixed with a hint of "whose that guy playing Frank?" If you came across The Transporter: Refueled on late night cable, you might tuck in for a few minutes, and enjoy some of the car crashes and fight choreography. Some action heroes, like James Bond, have proven they can age gracefully and more artistically (Skyfall) than others. Here, Luc Besson and company are looking for a quick buck off the back of fans too uninvolved to notice a change at the center. They're calling it The Transporter: Refueled, but without Jason Statam, it's just a reboot going through the money grab motions.