While it occasionally has a moment or two that capture the ludicrously good-bad heights of the second movie in the series, The Transporter Refueled never quite sticks consistently in gear. It’s not terrible as these things go, and I’d feel fine endorsing it if you could see it for free. If you’re looking at paying full ticket price, however, use that same money to download the first two Jason Statham movies, and buy whiskey with the change; the experience might then take twice as long, but end up ten times the fun.
Some plot similarities to Mad Max: Fury Road may make it popular among viewers looking for any kind of feminist angle, but probably not for very long. Especially since the real Mad Max: Fury Road is being rereleased in 3D Imax next week.
Set in 2010 for no apparent reason – it hasn’t been on the shelf that long, as far as I can tell – this fourth movie in the franchise simply ignores all previous continuity and gives us a younger Frank Martin (Ed Skrein, a.k.a. Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones), who looks like Jude Law cosplaying as Jason Statham, with a little extra shoe polish on the thinning hair. Like Statham’s Frank, Skrein’s has his simple rules, doomed always to be broken, when it comes to transporting cargo that probably isn’t legal. Unlike Statham’s version, he is definitely English (it was never clear whether Statham was trying a half-assed American accent or not, as it sort of came and went) and he hangs out a lot with his dad (Ray Stevenson), whose name is also Frank Martin, and around whom this movie should have centered.
Frank Sr. has just retired from his job as an English spy whose cover story is that he works for Evian (he’s basically Pierce Brosnan in No Escape, and looks like him too). Frank Jr. is developing a reputation as a great “Transporter” on the French Riviera, following military duty in a war that I could swear they say took place in “Ketchupstan.” While there, he served alongside Yuri (Yuri Kolokolnikov), who controls all the prostitution on the Riviera, which we know because of a 15 year-old flashback to 1995 which exists purely so he can literally say aloud that he now controls all the prostitution on the Riviera. Just in case the audience might not recognize him and his gang in the present day with new wigs, this flashback is later re-shown to us in black and white for a quick reminder.
Anyway, four of Yuri’s women want to escape the vile crimelord’s grasp AND set him up to be turned on by his fellow gangsters – so they hire a handsome, taciturn, bad-boy driver to get them out, mostly by doing a lot of crazy driving in uniquely customized vehicles. Sound familiar? Well, it’s TOTALLY new, because…erm…Mad Max doesn’t have a dad! So, yeah!
I’m guessing producer Luc Besson had a false hope that even if Jason Statham wouldn’t return to the lead role – Statham has said they offered him the same amount of money for three new films as he got for one of the originals, so he walked – there was a chance that he’d play the dad. As I said, Stevenson would be a much more fun actor to center the reboots on. Instead, he spends half the movie kidnapped, and the other half being way more charismatic than his supposed son; there’s a bit that feels like a tribute to MacGyver, or possibly MacGruber, where he uses a combination of sugar and spiderwebs to seal a wound, and it’s the perfect amount of silly and smart.
Skrein has the hand-to-hand fighting skills he needs, and when he’s showing them off it’s impressive, even when director Camille Delamarre (a man, in case you thought otherwise) resorts to that annoying stutter-vision I loathe so much. In particular, a fight scene involving a hallway lined with cabinets full of drawers is almost Jackie Chan-worthy in its choreography for a few seconds. And Delamarre isn’t afraid to let his hero get his ass kicked – yes, he still wins all the fights, but he comes out bloody and bruised, to the extent a PG-13 rating will allow.
|Rule #10: If you want strong female characters, don’t make them all dress and look alike|
How much it all works may depend on your tolerance for characters making really stupid decisions. More than one person downs a drink that isn’t what it seems when offered by a complete stranger, while the women’s master plan involves being in a room full of angry gangsters pointing guns at each other, and not wearing any kind of bulletproof vest. I started to zone out about the time Frank Jr. got a totally PG sympathy fuck, complete with immediate fadeout, for no reason other than that somebody thought a sex scene was required. On the other hand, when his dad beds two women at once it’s hilarious, and played so. It is also, as many online op-eds will be sure to note, not what Furiosa would do.
I think what I’m trying to say is that Ray Stevenson should star in more movies. Everyone okay with that? Let’s skip to The Transporter’s Dad: Empty Nest, and forget this one happened.