Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violent Sequences and some Sensuality
Directed by: Louis Leterrier & Corey Yuen
Written by: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Jason Statham, Shu Qi, Francois Berleand, Matt Schulze & Ric Young
Jason Statham began to make a name for himself in comedic crime flicks, but 2002’s THE TRANSPORTER actually gave him his first leading role in an action movie. The entire plot, tone, characters, and logic of THE TRANSPORTER can be summed up in four words: it’s an action movie. This film doesn’t care about the laws of physics, plot holes, or developing three-dimensional characters. Instead, TRANSPORTER’s purpose is to use a threadbare plot as an excuse for an endless amount of car chases, gun fights, hand-to-hand martial arts, and explosions. It delivers on all those fronts and nothing more. That’s exactly what it was intended to be from the get-go and THE TRANSPORTER is a pure popcorn entertainment.
Frank Martin is a transporter for hire. He’ll take any job from anyone and sticks to three simple unbreakable rules (The deal is final. No names. Never open the package). His latest client is a particularly shady gentlemen and against his better judgment, Frank breaks his third rule and opens the duffel bag in his trunk. It turns out that Frank has been unwittingly involved in a case of human trafficking. When the scummy client (simply known as “Wall Street”) decides to put out a contract on his head, Frank Martin decides its time to violently rescue 400 people in a shipping container…with some help from Lai Kwai (the girl in Wall Street’s duffel bag).
TRANSPORTER’s plot is simple and I did my damndest to class it up in that synopsis. To be perfectly honest, the screenplay isn’t well written. Co-writer Luc Besson has become known for over-the-top, silly entertainment (ala LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, TAKEN) and THE TRANSPORTER might be his laziest script ever. Even the sequels are slightly more complicated (though far more ludicrous) than this first installment. The budding romance between Lai Kwai and Frank Martin isn’t the least bit convincing. One third-act plot “twist” takes up a minute before revealing itself as a lie. THE TRANSPORTER is very much by-the-numbers and loaded with clichés, but it’s all the more enjoyable because of those things.
Luc Besson doesn’t want a pesky plot or character development getting in the way of opportunities for ridiculous stylized fight scenes, fiery explosions, and high-speed car chases. As a result, TRANSPORTER packs in as many excuses for adrenaline-pumping action scenes as it possibly can…logic and laws of physics be damned. The film constantly bombards the viewer with lots of convenient developments as anti-hero Frank Martin always seems ten steps ahead of everybody surrounding him. This is a man who will suck the air out of a dead thug’s mouth to stay underwater. He’ll also cover himself in thick oil to whoop ass six ways to Sunday in the film’s best sequence. Frank Martin is pretty much invincible and Jason Statham plays him to stoic perfection. It’s true that Jason Statham is basically playing himself in bad-ass action role (not a bad thing in my opinion) and that trend really started with the character of Frank Martin.
The only major problem that I have with THE TRANSPORTER is that the film was clearly edited down for a PG-13 rating. Two specific scenes were obviously trimmed to the MPAA’s liking and one of those moments involves the scumbag villain’s demise. To be fair, Wall Street isn’t much of a big baddie to begin with though. Matt Schulze only sneers and throws out occasional insults in the role, but he still deserved a better send-off than the toned-down one he receives. As Lai Kwai, Shu Qi was clearly cast for her looks and nothing more. Her line delivery hints that she didn’t know much English on the set and her character is just a damsel-in-distress for Frank to save. That flaw doesn’t exactly seem entirely out-of-place in a dumb-as-a-rock action flick that’s clearly aimed at guys who just want to watch someone kick ass and save the day.
THE TRANSPORTER is the defining cinematic moment when Jason Statham became a full-fledged action star. The plot may be nonexistent and the non-Statham characters have no personalities whatsoever, but THE TRANSPORTER can be fully enjoyed on a cheesy “guilty pleasure” level. The film’s adrenaline-pumping, ridiculous third act really cements it as a legitimately good action flick in my eyes. There’s lots of over-the-top absurdity, laugh-out-loud silliness (that’s played mostly straight) and minimal dialogue. It’s 92 minutes of action and not much else. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.