Director : Corey Yuen
Screenplay : Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Jason Statham (Frank Martin), Qi Shu (Lai), Matt Schulze (Wall Street), François Berléand (Tarconi), Ric Young (Mr. Kwai), Doug Rand (Leader), Didier Saint Melin (Boss)
The Transporter is an almost instantly forgettable European action vehicle with a few relatively good bang-’em-up sequences, a straight-to-video storyline, and a good dose of name cachet for those familiar with the genre. The director, Corey Yuen, is well-known as a choreographer of Hong Kong martial-arts flicks (including 9 starring Jet Li) and has also directed more than 30 over the past two decades. The movie was cowritten and coproduced by Luc Besson, the stylish French action auteur who wrote and directed La Femme Nikita (1990) and The Professional (1994), the latter of which the The Transporter resembles a little too much (the script was cowritten by Robert Mark Kamen, with whom Besson worked on his dreadful sci-fi opus The Fifth Element).
Like The Professional, The Transporter is about a tall, quiet type who is professionally engaged in secretive illegal activity and likes to keep to himself, but ends up “getting involved.” In other words, he’s the standard Western outlaw-turned-reluctant-hero, but whereas Jean Reno brought a quiet, stolid poignancy to his role as Leon the assassin, Jason Statham (Snatch) is just stolid as Frank Martin, an ex-decorated British Special Forces solider who now lives in the south of France and transports packages for anyone who will pay, no questions asked. Frank lives by a strict set of rules that keep him alive and in business, one of the most important being “don’t open the package.” Of course, that is exactly what he does when a wealthy crook named Wall Street (Matt Schulze) pays him to drive a car between two cities and Frank realizes that there is an unmentioned package in the trunk: a bound and gagged Chinese woman named Lai (Qi Shu).
Perhaps is just because Lai is so cute, but Frank can’t resist helping her out a little, although he still delivers her to the destination. But, Frank is double-crossed, and he winds up with Lai in tow once he seeks revenge on Wall Street and his cronies. This then leads to a silly and contrived development in which we find out that Wall Street is engaged in the illegal trade of Chinese immigrant-slaves and is in cahoots with Lai’s evil father (Ric Young).
Running a lean 92 minutes, The Transporter is over before you know it, but it feels much longer because it never manages to engage the audience beyond general sensory overload. It starts off in high-spirited fashion, introducing Frank as he “transports” a trio of bank robbers after they have just pulled off a heist, leading to a car chase through the streets of Nice that includes Frank jumping his BMW off a bridge and landing it squarely on the back of a moving auto transporter. Trouble is, outside of a few enthralling moments, the action is routine and not particularly exciting, and since that is virtually all the movie has to offer, it sinks like a stone.
The only genuinely good scenes in the movie are between Frank and a wiser-than-he-acts police detective named Tarconi (François Berléand). Tarconi obviously knows what Frank has been up to, and their wily give-and-take exchanges create an interesting human dynamic that is otherwise completely missing, including in the strained “romantic” relationship between Frank and Lai that culminates in a completely and utterly out-of-place sex scene that Lai suggests is “payment” for Frank’s having saved her life ... again. Simply put, Jason Statham and Qi Shu have no chemistry together, thus it’s not much of a loss when she is kidnapped by her father and Frank has to go it alone for the last third of the movie, which involves, by the way, an extended chase sequence that cribs from the famous truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) so shamelessly that Steven Spielberg should have gotten a credit somewhere.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick