Directed by: Cory Yuen
Starring: Jason Statham
Running Length: 92 minutes
The Transporter has some of the trappings of a successful action movie, but a few key components are glaringly absent. There’s the strong opening sequence to set the tone, the beefy main character, the seductive love interest, and the cool toys and the pretty explosions. Missing are the strong closing sequence, villains who are even slightly scary, and even a shred of emotion. It is as though the scriptwriters got bored halfway through and decided to leave the rest of the story, plot, direction, and dialogue up to only mildly creative fight choreographers. Unsurprisingly, director Cory Yuen actually is an action choreographer, who says, “I try to create action sequences that audiences haven’t seen before.” Perhaps he should have tried to create tension or excitement or empathy for his main characters.
Frank Martin (Jason Statham, who isn’t nearly as cool as he was in Guy Ritchie pictures) is a careful criminal who follows rules. An ex-military man with a checkered past that is implied (but not revealed, because that might be interesting), Martin does one job: he delivers packages. His precision allows him to keep his skin and not get caught while pulling physically unlikely stunts, until the movie’s solitary bit of interesting plot manages to place a bagged girl named Lai (Qi Shu, who learned English specifically for this role) into the trunk of his car as a package to be delivered.
Naturally, this coldhearted mob henchman is overwhelmed by feelings of compassion for the girl, and decides to offer her juice during their long car trip to her destination. Bad move, he realizes later, for it means opening the package and breaking his agreement. Clearly lacking a working knowledge of female anatomy and its relation to extended automobile transportation, Martin is forced to make another unscheduled stop to allow her to relieve herself. This is the only realistic moment of the entire film.
A courier (the fancy word for “transporter” which was presumably determined to be out of the vocabulary of the movie’s target audience) doesn’t know the contents of the package for their own protection, and for the protection of those who employ them. Once it is realized that Martin learned what he was carrying, that protection vanishes, and it becomes necessary for him to be killed. As usual, anyone significantly more or less evil than the protagonist is incapable of competency, and these killing attempts fail (possibly because Seth Green is too busy failing to be tough in Knockaround Guys to tell anyone to just frickin’ shoot him). Meanwhile, the evil crime boss known only as Wall Street (Matt Schulze, whose character is about as evil looking as an uncarved pumpkin during the daytime) proceeds along with a diabolical and entirely uncreative scheme tossed halfheartedly into the movie partway through just effectively enough to give the characters more reasons to beat each other up.
Luc Besson wrote The Transporter specifically for Jason Statham, with help from frequent collaborator Robert Mark Kamen (who lost any respect gained from writing The Karate Kid by also writing all the sequels). Besson is best known for writing, directing, and producing The Professional, one of the best action movies of the 1990’s. Fans of that film will find none of the emotion that made it so fascinating in this particular effort, but will notice more than a few uncomfortable similarities. The interplay between the meticulous and eccentric outlaw and the innocent girl who forces him to break his own strict rules was deep and genuine in The Professional; here it is shallow and barely comedic. The ridiculously out-of-control villain of the earlier film is dangerous and unpredictable, while his new reincarnation is simply silly.
The Transporter is reminiscent of the summer popcorn season, but for mindless action, a more tasteful rental would go much farther to entertain. Regardless, Jason Statham will be one to watch in coming years, as his physical abilities and charm allow him the potential for more intriguing action roles in the future.