Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 17, 2016)
Some movies seem cursed to fail due to their titles. Really, could a film with a title like Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever actually appeal to an audience? Of course, it didn’t help that the flick was apparently a total POS.
Unfortunately, bad titles also mar good movies, and that was the case 2002’s The Transporter. I think that it found an audience in spite of its moniker.
When I first heard about it, the film’s title totally confused me. I hear “transporter”, I think Star Trek, and I automatically figured it was a science-fiction movie instead of the car-driven action flick it was. Maybe others weren’t as confused, but I continue to think it’s a terrible title.
Transporter focuses on Frank Martin (Jason Statham), a driver who transports illegal materials but doesn’t get involved with them in any other way; he does his job “no questions asked”. This means he may act as a getaway driver for a bank robbery. In his life and his work, Frank strives for precision and attempts to minimize complications.
Unfortunately for Frank, a problem arises when he takes a job to transport a woman named Lai (Qi Shu). Along the journey, he breaks some of his rules and shows her a little compassion. This bites him in the butt after he delivers her to “Wall Street” (Matt Schulze). Since Frank broke his own rule and interacted with “the package”, Wall Street tries to have him killed.
Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t sit well with Frank, so he attempts to take his revenge on Wall Street and his cronies. This leads to greater involvement with Lai as the two work together. The movie follows their interactions and an increasingly complicated plot that includes her father (Ric Young), a suspicious police inspector (Francois Berleand) and a container of smuggled slaves.
As you watch The Transporter, you’ll often encounter a feeling of déjà vu. The movie borrows liberally from other flicks and does little to stand on its own.
For instance, I see substantial lifts from Leon: The Professional; perhaps that shouldn’t surprise, since Transporter writer/producer Luc Besson led that earlier effort. We also see significant influences from Hong Kong cinema, Bond flicks, and even a smidgen of Raiders of the Lost Ark during a climactic truck chase.
At times, Transporter feels too cobbled together, what with all its obvious influences. That said, it manages to package the pieces into one reasonably entertaining whole.
The presence of Statham in the lead helps. His baldness makes him an unlikely heroic leading man, but Statham fleshes out the part well as he strikes a blow for cueballs everywhere. Gritty, rugged and dynamic, he creates an unusually interesting action hero.
Happily, Frank usually avoids inane quips and he packs a convincing punch. Some actors seem to require lots of behind-the-scenes shenanigans to turn them into badasses, but with Statham, you get the feeling he could really hold his own in a fight.
Predictability mars parts of the proceedings, especially as the film compares to Leon. Like that film’s protagonist, Frank is a loner with a quiet, tidy personal life unfettered by outside complications. Someone else enters this disconnected universe and brings the dude to life for the first time in quite a while.
Obviously Transporter takes a romantic twist not possible in Leon - given the female lead’s youth - and it also doesn’t go down a path with a similar impact. Leon was more of an emotional journey, while Frank’s growth here is almost incidental. At times his development feels tacked on to make the movie come across as more substantial than it is, especially since we know what will happen with the character.
Despite those easily anticipated bits, Transporter tosses in enough curveballs to make it interesting. Like the rest of the film, you won’t find anything wildly creative. There’s just enough unpredictable material to stave off boredom.
The Transporter falls into the category of fun but insubstantial. It never becomes original or terribly memorable. The action scenes are lively but not stunning, and they rarely bring anything particularly creative to the genre.
This is the sort of flick you watch, you enjoy, and then you move on with your life. Don’t expect it to stick with you, but you’ll have a good time while it runs.