In The Transporter, Jason Statham plays Frank Martin, an ex-marine now working as a mercenary courier for shady businessmen somewhere in Paris. When Frank is given an assignment, he follows a strict set of rules and one is to never open a package. The viewer is put in the same situation as Frank and told not to ask any questions about this film. If they simply accept it everything will go smoothly. In defiance, I asked questions. Questions like “Is there a plot?” and “Was the dialogue meant to be this stupid?” I couldn't help but ask because the film’s in-your-face absurdity is hard to miss. The Transporter wants you to forget about the importance of a storyline and characterization but never gives you any reason to. It seemed like the lazily concocted plot gambits and mundane dialogue were there only as a reminder of why a good script is helpful.
The film starts off on a high note, with Frank picking up four criminals coming straight out of a bank robbery. What follows is an excitingly staged, perfectly edited car chase through the streets of Paris that works in a few standard jokes directed at police officers who can't seem to apprehend one driver no matter how many units of backup they call in. This is our introduction to Frank, showing him at his fastest, funniest, and cleverest. As Frank Martin, Jason Statham is the UK’s answer to Bruce Willis. He mugs, he punches, and he’s not very big. But he’s funny, he’s strong, and he’s a lot more of a threat than he appears. The timing of his arrival is impeccable since Willis has given up the action-movie biz and traded in his machine guns for a little respect.
Once Frank is established as a quiet, sophisticated loner (they're always loners), he is given another package to deliver. Aroused by a newfound curiosity, he opens the package and discovers that it is a young Chinese woman (Qi Shu), who is most likely on a hit-list. After he gives her a moment to relieve herself, she escapes and complications arise. Later, we discover she is connected to the smuggling of 400 Chinese people in The United States and the threat of their execution. Though she is not directly behind it, Frank has his suspicions. The real villains are the father of the young woman (Ric Young) and a businessman named “Wall Street” (Matt Shulze) whose line of work is so vaguely described you might assume his profession would list him as “movie villain.”
On first impression, The Transporter appeared to be the cure for xXx, the ego-driven, Vin Diesel actioner. It has no pretensions about being a James Bond film for the Playstation generation and as opposed to Diesel (it pains me to list that as a last name), Statham doesn't act cool, he simply is. But while xXx was a potentially rousing 90-minute adventure bloated to 2 hours, The Transporter is a 90-minute adventure that just feels like 2 hours. Every Kung-fu fight, shootout, and explosion begins to stand in more as life-support for the deteriorating storyline than anything else.
What especially slows the film down is the dialogue, which becomes so clichéd, ponderous, and downright laughable that at several points during the film, I could hear people in the audience saying things like “Oh, please.” And who could blame them, with lines like “What I said may have not been the truth, but when we were making love, that was real,” the dialogue pans itself.
Luc Besson, who acts as writer and producer on this film, injects his unique style of fusing hard-hitting action with a bombastic, kicky soundtrack. Unlike his directorial efforts, La Femme Nikita and The Professional, The Transporter lacks Besson's perspective as a storyteller. Director Cory Yuen is able to mimic the humor and kinetics of his action scenes, but never explores the characters or the dilemma as well as he should. The film is a disappointment. Like Frank's dilemma, the only task was to deliver. This, The Transporter could not do.
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