Tuesday, September 8, 2015


(France/China/Belgium - 2015)

Directed by Camille Delamarre. Written by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Luc Besson. Cast: Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol, Rasha Bukvic, Gabriella Wright, Tatiana Pajkovic, Wenxia Yu, Noemie Lenoir, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Samir Guesmi. (PG-13, 96 mins)

Coming seven years after 2008's abysmal TRANSPORTER 3 and without Jason Statham or TRANSPORTER: THE SERIES star Chris Vance, THE TRANSPORTER: REFUELED seems like the kind of desperation reboot that should've held its world premiere at the Redbox in the vestibule of your nearest Walmart. It's as dumb as you might expect, but it's also surprisingly entertaining if you just sit back and roll with it, plus it's got a great set piece at an airport that's probably--even with some significant digital assistance--the most gonzo action sequence this side of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Replacing Statham is future trivia question response Ed Skrein, a part-time British rapper and one-time Daario Naharis on the third season of HBO's GAME OF THRONES (he was replaced in the fourth and on by Michiel Huisman). Skrein doesn't have the imposing screen presence or the bullish persona of Statham, but he grows on you as the movie goes on. Like Statham's interpretation of Transporter Frank Martin, Skrein's younger version prefers to work alone, but finds himself part of a ragtag team here, almost like Luc Besson and co-writers Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS) are taking a page from the FAST & FURIOUS playbook, minus someone grunting "family" in every other line.

After the usual parking garage introduction where Martin is shown taking care of a gang of dipshits trying to steal his car, the Transporter is on to his latest no-questions-asked job: driving a mystery woman named Anna (Loan Chabanol). Anna says she has two packages, which turn out to be two additional passengers, Maria (Tatiana Pajkovic) and Qiao (Wenxia Yu). A fourth woman, Gina (Gabriella Wright) is at their destination, having tazed Frank Martin Sr. (Ray Stevenson), the Transporter's just-retired spy dad, holding him hostage to ensure Frank Jr's cooperation. Anna and the others are setting in motion an elaborate plan to drain the assets of numerous Monaco-based Russian crime lords and blame it on their pimp Arkady Kasanov (Rasha Bukvic), a human trafficker specializing in kidnapping teenage girls and forcing them into a lifetime of selling their bodies on the French Riviera. Double-crosses predictably ensue, but the Transporter and his dad come to sympathize with the long-abused women, and of course, it's personal between Frank Jr and Kasanov, who knew one another during their days as Special Forces mercenaries.

Other than being younger and lankier, Skrein mostly sticks to the Statham template, and there's a lot of good back-and-forth between Skrein and Stevenson, and the two actors work well enough together that Frank Sr would be a most welcome addition should there be future TRANSPORTERs. Though he takes part in a lot of the action, I doubt Stevenson's portrayal of Frank Sr. is meant to be an older version of the Statham character. There's enough here to suggest that it's both a reboot and a sequel, though the Transporter's detective pal Tarconi, played by Francois Berleand in the first three movies and on the TV series, is absent. The plot is busy enough that Frank Sr manages to find himself kidnapped twice and there's a very likable rapport between the Martins and the women, with the appealing Chabanol nicely channeling a young Monica Bellucci throughout. Director and Besson protege Camille Delamarre (BRICK MANSIONS) handles action sequences with much more clarity than TRANSPORTER 3's Olivier Megaton, a director who has yet to live up to his awesome name. There's still a lot of zooming and quick-cuts, but Delamarre keeps thing coherent, whether it's the car chases or a bank vault brawl, where the Transporter engages in what Joe Bob Briggs might term "safe deposit box-fu," or most notably, the bonkers airport sequence, which is almost worth the price of admission. It's not enough for the Transporter to drive his car 200 mph on a runway to get under an accelerating jet to catch his dad through the sunroof as he drops out of the cargo hold exit under the plane--no, then he has to speed back down the runway and up a ramp, going airborne into a jetway, then making a getaway by driving through the concourse like the Blues Brothers in a mall, crashing out through the airport's main entrance and blending in with the traffic undetected. Yeah, THE TRANSPORTER: REFUELED is that kind of movie and is fully self-aware. It's not on the same level as the franchise's standard-bearer, the Louis Leterrier-directed 2005 masterpiece TRANSPORTER 2 (Transporter, ambushing bad guy on a plane: "This flight's been cancelled." Bad guy: "Wrong. You've been cancelled!"), but it's a good sign that there's an unexpected reserve of fuel left in the tank.

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