Cody takes a ride with the Jason Statham Transporter trilogy.
THE TRANSPORTER (2002)
Thirteen years ago, Jason Statham proved he could carry a film on his own with this simplistic and goofy throwback action flick from producer Luc Besson, who co-wrote the screenplay with The Karate Kid writer Robert Mark Kamen.
Co-directed by Chinese martial arts film veteran Corey Yuen and first-timer Louis Leterrier (Yuen handled the action sequences, Leterrier handled the rest), the film sets out to make Statham's character Frank Martin a new action icon from his first scene.
An English man now living in France, Frank is a professional driver who typically works for criminal types. He doesn't care what the situation is or what he has been hired to transport, he just does his job and does it perfectly. He minds his own business and follows three rules:
1. Once the deal is made, it's final.
2. No names.
3. Never open the package.
The titular transporter is introduced picking up a group of bank robbers right outside the bank they've just robbed. The alarm is blaring, time is precious, but Frank does not start up the car. There's an issue that must be resolved before they can leave. There's one more passenger than he was hired to transport. He has allotted a certain amount of gas for the trip, set the car's shocks just so, the weight of an extra person will throw it all off and make it more likely that the police will catch them in the event of a chase. And don't think of killing him and stealing his BMW, because it can only be activated with a secret code. As the robbers panic, Frank remains completely calm and cool. Once the lead robber has shot one of his lackeys in the head and dumped the body out of the car, Frank starts it up, the police arrive, and a chase does ensue.
Never mind that Frank has a carsick robber vomit out the window to spare his leather seats despite the fact that he seemed perfectly fine with the extra guy's blood and brain getting splattered on them, it's only a joke and this is all nonsense. Just pay attention to how cool this guy is.
Frank's quiet life is disrupted when he notices that the bag he's transporting during another job contains something that's alive. He breaks rule #3, opening the bag to see that it's a human being: a young Asian girl named Lai Kwai (Shu Qi). He still delivers her to scummy criminal kingpin "Wall Street" (Matt Schulze), but is conscience-stricken over it. As Frank departs from Wall Street's mansion, the bad guy hires him to deliver a second package to another location. That package ends up exploding - luckily, Frank isn't in his car at the time, but his beloved BMW is destroyed. So he springs into action.
Wall Street has just messed with the wrong guy. Frank is very capable of handling himself, he's a former military man and is trained in martial arts. His fighting skills are even more impressive than his driving skills, and as the rest of the film plays out he kicks a whole lot of ass in wonderfully shot and choreographed fight scenes, most famously one which Frank wades into while coated with oil.
With the help of a rescued Lai, good-natured authority figure Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand), and his fists and feet, Frank reluctantly sets out to dismantle Wall Street's human trafficking empire... which Lai's father (Ric Young) happens to be involved with as well... and save the day, as an action hero does, even when they don't really want to be a hero.
The Transporter isn't trying to be anything other than a showcase for Statham and the character of Frank Martin. It moves along quickly from action sequence to action sequence, with sprinklings of humor throughout and a dash of prerequisite rushed romance between Frank and Lai. The plot is slapdash and the storytelling sloppy. If you try to apply logic or question things, the movie will likely leave you behind.
For example, we're repeatedly shown that the villains have two container trucks when they're hauling around the four hundred human beings they've had shipped in to France, but Frank only liberates one container while the other keeps cruising down the road. Where did the other container full of people end up? Don't think about it, that thought will sully the happy ending!
Mindless fun, The Transporter would have been right at home if it had been released in the midst of movies like Cobra and Commando back in the 1980s.
TRANSPORTER 2 (2005)
Again written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and directed by Louis Leterrier (with Corey Yuen heading up the second unit), Transporter 2 finds Jason Statham's Frank Martin living in Florida and still working as a driver. The job he's currently doing is quite unusual for him - as a favor to a fellow driver, he's filling in as chauffeur for Jack Billings (Hunter Clary), the young son of government worker Jefferson Billings (Matthew Modine), director of the National Drug Control Policy. Frank and Jack have struck up a better friendship than you might expect, and there's also chemisty between our hero and Jefferson's wife Audrey (Amber Valletta). The Billings have a rocky relationship, but Frank is playing nice and doesn't get romantically involved with Audrey.
Frank is forced back into action when a professional villain named Gianni (Alessandro Gassman), under orders from Colombian drug cartels, infects Jack with a deadly virus. The idea is that Jack will infect Jefferson, who will in turn infect all of the drug enforcement ministers who have gathered for an international summit. Getting these guys out of the way will be very good for the drug business.
To thwart Gianni and acquire the antidote needed to save the lives of Jack and everyone he comes in contact with, Frank has to put fists and feet to work to beat his way through Gianni's legion of heavily armed lackeys.
Along the way, Frank gets some assistance from an old pal who has come to visit him from France - François Berléand as Inspector Tarconi.
Bigger, dumber, and shorter than its predecessor, Transporter 2 is a ridiculous cartoon of an action movie, full of over-the-top moments that are brought to the screen with the use of some poor CGI. To make matters worse, every CG-enhanced stunt is shot from angles that make the fakery all the more obvious.
The even goofier tone is evident from the opening moment, when a crew of carjackers attempt to steal Frank's Audi. The "point man" of this group is a teenage girl (AnnaLynne McCord) in a school uniform, although she wears it in a way that would get her sent home. The #2 in Gianni's operation, Kate Nauta as Lola, has a similar distaste for being covered by clothing, often ending up just short of nude.
There is a whole lot of absurdity on display in this sequel. Frank does things with his car that are impossible and at times don't even make sense. Some things here are so stupid that it makes my jaw drop. And I'm someone who thought the car stunts in Furious Seven were, for the most part, reasonable. The dopey moments aren't reserved just for the vehicular action, either. This is a movie where a thin wooden door can protect you from the bullets being fired from twin fully automatic Glocks. With one burst of gunfire, Lola causes a helicopter to explode, but her bullets can't get through a wooden door to hit Frank.
As with the first movie, if you stop to think about anything happening in Transporter 2 for even a moment the whole thing will deflate, but that goes double for this one.
On top of all of Transporter 2's problems, the digital grading it went through in post has made it hideous to look at. This sequel is a step down from the original in every way and is at times flat-out embarrassing to watch, but it still has a B-movie action charm and some cool physical altercations. When Frank is knocking people around, it's great. It's the other types of action that drag the film down for me.
TRANSPORTER 3 (2008)
Things got shaken up a bit for Transporter 3. Although Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen wrote the screenplay, Louis Leterrier did not return to the director's chair. He was busy directing The Incredible Hulk for Marvel. Olivier Megaton took over the helm, and his film does not begin the same way Leterrier's did, with the opening titles playing out over shots of Frank Martin's vehicle. It just jumps into story set-up. In fact, Frank isn't even in his car when we first see him this time around. He's out fishing with good old Inspector Tarconi - Jason Statham and François Berléand both reprising their roles.
Frank is living in France again, still a professional driver, but he isn't in his car because he turned down the job that was most recently offered to him. That same gig comes back around to him when he returns home from fishing and a car comes crashing through the wall of his home. It's driven by the man he recommended for the job, still on the clock but now badly injured. An ambulance is called, Frank's fellow transporter is taken off in the direction of the hospital... but doesn't get very far. The driver had been fitted with a bracelet that holds a powerful explosive charge. When he's taken seventy-five feet away from his car, the bracelet detonates. The ambulance explodes.
Now Frank is stuck with the cargo the man was transporting - a young woman named Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), who is also wearing one of those bracelets. He gets knocked out by the henchmen of the villainous Johnson (Robert Knepper), fitted with a bracelet of his own, and when he regains consciousness he's forced to drive Valentina to Romania. She is the daughter of Ukraine's Environmental Agency Minister (Jeroen Krabbé of The Living Daylights), abducted in an effort to force her father to allow a business called Ecocorp to dump toxic waste in their country.
For the majority of the film, Frank and Valentina are on the road, unable to venture any further than seventy-five feet away from the car. As they go along, they begin to feel an attraction to each other. But this is, of course, not simply a road trip love story. This is still an action movie, and there are a whole lot of obstacles thrown in Frank's path. He gets chased by Johnson's enemies. When he goes off course, Johnson's men are there to fight him, with Corey Yuen again providing the fight choreography. When the car is stolen, he has to try to keep up with it by any means necessary.
As Tarconi does his best to catch up with him and figure out what's going on, Frank is forced along to the destination Johnson has set for him. Eventually he'll have to turn the tables to save his life and Valentina's, and save Ukraine from dangerous pollution in the process.
Although Transporter 3 is a substantial improvement over part 2, it's the lowest ranked of the Statham Transporter trilogy on IMDb. It's not like there's a huge difference between the numbers for the three, they're all in the 6 star range, but the fact that this one is the lowest in that range is somewhat surprising to me. If I were to guess, I'd say the main issues are the character of Valentina, who can be quite annoying at times, and Natalya Rudakova's performance, which I have seen complaints about.
Rudakova was not an actress before this film, she wasn't pursuing an acting career. She was a hairdresser who just happened to catch Luc Besson's eye while walking around in New York City. As soon as he saw her, he wanted to put her in a movie. He had her take acting classes, and then suddenly she was the female lead in the latest sequel in a successful franchise. It's a bit of a rough start, she probably should have been given smaller roles at first, but I really don't have much of a problem with her as Valentina.
While the female lead may bring the film down for some, I would say things are balanced out by the presence of Robert Knepper as the villain. Johnson isn't the most interesting guy, but Knepper is the best actor the series has had as the main baddie.
Despite giving himself a professional name that makes you think he'll go over-the-top, Megaton actually takes a much more grounded approach to his Transporter film than the previous films had, part 2 especially. He saw the franchise as a mixture of James Bond and Die Hard, leaning more heavily toward Die Hard, and thus made a more serious movie. There is the occasional burst of silliness in Transporter 3, but it's less of a B-movie than both of its predecessors, its tone drawing closer to action/thriller territory. For me, this is a course correction after Transporter 2 went too far in the opposite direction.
The Transporter franchise continues, but without Statham, and I'm ambivalent about the fact that his time as Frank Martin seemingly ends with Transporter 3. He went out with a very solid entry in the series, but it's such a solid entry that I wish we had been able to see him carry on as Frank a while longer, in further sequels more along the lines of this one. What could have been...