The Transporter (2002) was clever, cheeky, and even seemed a little new. This effect was mostly the result of crackling martial arts choreography by Corey Yuen and a crisp performance by Jason Statham as “professional driver” Frank Martin. Willing to transport just about anything for money, he held to his firmest belief and number one rule — “Respect a man’s car, and the man respects you” — and looked a bit bored when forced to show off his deadly skills.
If the stunts were impossible, their speed and brutality were frequently entertaining — gravity, flesh, joints, basic physics be damned. Transporter 2 is even zooier. None of the leaps and kicks and broken arms makes any sense, but the movie just doesn’t care. And neither do consumers, apparently, as the film’s opening broke records — at $20.3 million, the biggest Labor Day opening ever.
Frank remains defiantly undeveloped. Here he’s in Miami rather than the South of France, though they’re pretty much the same, populated with gaudy and supercilious rich folks. As the substitute driver for adorable Jack (Hunter Clary), he’s especially protective, making sure that the boy doesn’t see arguments between his parents, Audrey (Amber Valletta) and Ted Billings (Matthew Modine), a mucky-muck in a United States narcotics agency. Mom thanks Frank for his sensitive, showing cleavage as she leans into his car, then later that night, appears on his doorstep to offer up her drunken self (“I feel so lost, so confused!”); Frank, being a man of admirable moral character, resists her tempting former-supermodelish charms and sends her home. Drunk, in her car.
Ah well. It’s only a matter of minutes before this bit of illogic takes a backseat to the grander plot machinations, each more outrageous than the one before. The designated crisis is both topical and bizarre: Jack is kidnapped by villains who mean to infect whim with a virus that he’ll then transmit by breathing on his dad, and dad will then transmit by breathing all over a conference full of international drug czars. Whether this event means to enhance illicit drug markets or just kill a bunch of suits isn’t so clear. And it does seem an especially convoluted way to reach either end. But it draws from an assortment of current fears, from kidnapped children to biological warfare to ineffectual officials to disrupted domestic realms.
Frank puts most of his devious energies into defeating the leader of a cabal of mostly anonymous international baddies, the slickly sinister Gianni (Alessandro Gassman) and his barmy girlfriend Lola (current supermodel Kate Nauta), who announces, “My problems are not medical, they’re psychological.” While he’s a standard cocky movie bastard, all fine pectorals and cultivated tan, she is elaborately, glossily insane, prone to pulling large automatic weapons miraculously out of her lacy underwear. To take the boy, she poses as a pediatrician’s nurse wearing strappy red stilettos and an incredible overkill of mascara: following a shoot-out and explosion set at the doctor’s office, her face is smeared with black and dotted with freckles, a nifty contradiction on intense display as she licks Frank’s face in menacing close up.
This obvious ewww barely distracts Frank, however, who, on being “let go” by the kidnappers, acutely notes that they’ve rigged his car with a bomb. Instead of leaping from the vehicle, the usual action hero escape route, he drives it super-fast, flips it off a ramp so that it turns upside down and catches the bomb on a crane hook that just happens to be available on a convenient construction site. It’s a stunning, wacky stunt, not the least bit connected to anyone’s lived reality. And it’s not even as crazy as some of the hand to hand fight scenes, rendered in the two-film franchise’s signature slow-motion-to-zap speeds and smash cuts. Frank soars gorgeously through the air, his foot stuck out in perfect slicing-edge fashion, kicking back all comers. When pressed up against an opponent, he breaks bones with excruciating accuracy and sound effect, a sublime pain-maker.
He resists the thuggery of the very expressive Dimitri (Jason Flemyng) and the earnest coppery of federal agent Stappleton (Keith David for a minute), and even makes phone time for his visiting “friend,” French Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand), kept on from the first film, primarily as snooty-jokey commentary on the crudeness of U.S. law enforcement (he starts cooking for the cops who pick him up, entertaining them in between sneaky uses of their computers to provide Frank with incredibly useful and easy to find information.
As Frank and Tarconi transition so easily into U.S. cop-and-crime culture, they reveal again that corruption and arrogance are the same everywhere. As producer Luc Besson has demonstrated in his broad array of action films (from Subway to The Fifth Element to Unleashed), the genre’s point is style. Heroes and villains come and go (and are in the end interchangeable), but the look is forever. Frank is precise and resourceful, careful with his suits (he takes off his jacket before one fight because he’s just had it dry cleaned), and attentive to details. He keeps his promises, he’s relentlessly neat.
And he takes just-visible-enough delight in punishing the ugliness of others. When Dimitri is sloppily unnerved by the mere belief that he’s been infected with the virus, Frank puts him through considerable psychic torture before he actually kills him. And when that psycho girl in panties just can’t understand how he works — that is, she blasts at him repeatedly and recklessly on several occasions, well, she must pay as well, in a very efficient way. Transporter 2 is lunatic and excessive, but it is painfully elegant, an ideal escapist delirium for end-of-summer, Katrina-tv-weary moviegoers. It’s punishment that looks like pleasure.