Cody sees a hero recast, then endures Japanese rap and a giallo homage.
THE TRANSPORTER: REFUELED (2015)
Until the James Bond franchise was officially rebooted with 2006's Casino Royale, many fans simply saw the series as having a floating timeline. When Pierce Brosnan was fighting villains in the twentieth Bond film in 2002, he was playing a character who had experienced everything we had seen in the previous nineteen movies, going all the way back to the beginning in 1962, the timeline of the events had just moved up over the decades. For example, what Sean Connery did in the '60s, for Brosnan would have occurred in '80s.
When Luc Besson, producer and co-creator of the Transporter trilogy, decided to revive the film series after it had been dormant for several years (during this break there was a Transporter TV show that I'll discuss in the future), it was announced that original star Jason Statham would not be returning. Instead, the character of transporter Frank Martin would be getting recast for a prequel trilogy that would focus on his origin story.
About a year and a half later, the first film in this planned new trilogy reached theatres, and The Transporter: Refueled establishes a floating timeline for Frank Martin right up front. Although the Statham films came out in 2002, 2005, and 2008, this prequel is set in 2010 and introduces us to Ed Skrein as a Frank who is a few years younger than when we first saw him in '02.
Even those who think that Jason Statham is the hottest thing since sliced bread would have to admit that he has a look that's rough and rugged, that's probably what they like about him. So it was at first very jarring to see Skrein step onto the screen as the same character, because this guy looks like your typical model. A soft pretty boy. Doubt crossed my mind. But while he doesn't have the presence of Statham and doesn't reach his level of badassness, I thought Skrein ended up doing a decent enough job taking over the role of Frank. It's not like it's a demanding role. You just have to coolly drop lines about the rules of the transporting business in a gravelly voice and learn some fight choreography. So when Skrein is handily fighting off a group of car thieves within seconds of appearing, in a scene much like the beginning of Transporter 2, he is well on his way to being an acceptable Frank Martin.
Directed by Transporter 3 editor Camille Delamarre, this is the first entry in the series not written by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Besson still gets a screenplay credit, but this time his co-writers were Bill Collage and Adam Cooper, screenwriting partners who provided the story for Tower Heist and are best known to me for the 2006 comedy Accepted.
The story Besson, Callage, and Cooper crafted isn't really that much of an origin story, which is fine by me. I didn't need to know any more about Frank Martin than the established facts that he's a former military man turned driver-for-hire, and that's just what he is from the start of Refueled. The story does reveal a bit more of his history, though, by including his father Frank Senior (Ray Stevenson, who made an awesome Punisher in Punisher: War Zone) - who has recently retired from a job that Frank has always assumed was cover for being a secret agent - and making the villain someone Frank knows from his military days.
Frank is not fond of his former associate Arkady Karasov (Radivoje Bukvic), who has become a criminal kingpin and human trafficker, but Karasov often recommends his services to the people he works with. When a quartet of Three Musketeers-obsessed prostitutes escape from Karasov's clutches, they seek out the man they've often heard their captor calling the best in the business and manipulate Frank into helping them on the rampage of revenge they're carrying out against Karasov. They do this by kidnapping and poisoning Frank Senior, forcing Frank to help them so he can save his father's life.
Traditional Transporter action ensues.
Just like its predecessors, The Transporter: Refueled is a mindless actionfest that has no greater ambition than to entertain the viewer with the spectacle of Frank pummeling bad guys with his fists, feet, and any kind of weapon he can get his hands on, in between sequences trying to entertain with the spectacle of cars speeding through the streets, crashing and flipping. It's a throwback, a type of action movie that is kind of rare these days, and it's refreshing to see something like this get released from time to time.
If you enjoyed the previous Transporters, I'd say you'll enjoy Refueled as well, as long as the absence of Statham isn't an immediate deal breaker for you. It fits well with the others, and I would choose it over part 2. It's dumb, but it's not as dumb as that one was.
TOKYO TRIBE (2014)
I can easily imagine that Tokyo Tribe will become a new favorite for a lot of its viewers. I've never seen anything else quite like it. If its tone and style appeal to you, if you feel drawn into the neon-lit, graffiti-covered world that writer/director Shion Sono has created with this film (based on the manga by Santa Inoue), you're going to want to have this unique viewing experience again and again. Other viewers will have an experience like mine, where the novelty wore off very quickly and the 116 minute running time felt like an interminable slog.
The film is an action/musical set in a future where Tokyo has crumbled into a crime-ridden slum, the city overrun by gangs - twenty-three different gangs, to be exact, each claiming their own turf. The worst gang of the bunch are the Bukuro Wu-Ronz, led by a platinum haired douche named Mera, who's the son of criminal kingpin Lord Buppa. Although the newly crowned leader of the Shinjuku Hands plans to wipe out the Wu-Ronz, and the Shibuya Saru and Nerimuthaf*ckaz for good measure, Mera is most concerned with the gang he should be least concerned with: the fun-loving Musashino Saru, who are all about peace and love. Fuelled by a personal vendetta against Musashino leader Kai, Mera plans to lure the gang into a trap.
Lord Buppa regularly has young women kidnapped off the street; some of them he puts to work as prostitutes, his second son Nkoi has some serve him as living furniture, and others Buppa has killed, cooked, and served for dinner. Mera chooses one girl from the latest group of abductees to serve as bait for the Musashino Saru. Unbeknownst to him, the girl is Erika, daughter of a Satanic High Priest that Lord Buppa is in league with. The High Priest plans to make Erika the virgin sacrifice at his next black mass, so once Mera's plan goes south and Kai escapes his clutches with Erika in tow, Lord Buppa unleashes a new gang called Waru into the streets of Tokyo. Accompanied by two very powerful servants of the High Priest, Waru goes to war with every gang they come across in the search for Erika.
In basic description, Tokyo Tribe sounds awesome, doesn't it? Unfortunately, I didn't find the execution of that story to be nearly as fun as it could have been. Its biggest weakness for me was the element that is one of its biggest selling points - the fact that the story is primarily told through the characters rapping. I'm not a fan of hip hop in the first place, and it's tough to evaluate lyrics when they're in a language I don't speak, but the main problem is how much the rapping bogs down the momentum of the movie. Everything takes twice as long as it should because the raps have to be showcased. The introduction to the gangs alone takes up the first twenty minutes, because each group has to do a little rap about themselves. Some of the rap was admittedbly enjoyable, but come on, let's get on with it!
When the action finally fully kicks in, it's not really worth the wait, although Nana Seino demonstrates some impressive martial arts moves in the role of Erika. If there's a movie all about her kicking ass where I don't have to sit through any rap sequences, I would gladly watch it.
There is fun to be had with Tokyo Tribe, it's completely nonsensical and over-the-top, and as I said, some viewers will absolutely love it, but this was just not a movie that was made for me. There is nothing here that I need to see (or hear) again.
Now go tell your homies that life is dope.
The Tokyo Tribe review was written for ArrowintheHead.com
THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS (2013)
The choice for Day 15 of the Final Girl blog's SHOCKtober event was a slowly paced, confusing giallo homage that dedicates large amounts of its overly long 102 minute running time to abstract imagery. Writers/directors Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet couldn't have made a movie less appealing to me if they had known me and purposely set out to do so. Well, they could have made it a rap musical as well, that would have done it.
The story centers on a seemingly mentally unbalanced man who returns from a business trip to find that his wife has gone missing. After waiting and drinking in their apartment for a while, he seeks answers and finds that everyone he talks to also has an odd story and a missing loved one... I think that's what's going on. Things jump around too much and the rules of reality are broken too often for me to really understand it.
The movie looks great, if you can keep your attention focused on it instead of finding it to be maddening. The cinematography by Manuel Dacosse is beautiful. That's really the only positive thing I can say about this one, it lost me very quickly.
But, like Tokyo Tribe, it's the sort of movie that will find appreciation from a niche audience. What I found repellent, some viewers will find dazzling.