If there’s one thing writer/producer Luc Besson deserves credit for, it’s for being able to wring every last possible cent out of his every creative thought. It takes a special brand of crazy to churn sequels and spinoffs out of films like Nikita, District B13, and Taken, but Besson has a knack for it. The Transporter franchise is not one I ever would have pegged for a reboot — or a TV series, for that matter — but here we are. Transporter Refueled brings Frank Martin and his particular set of
skills rules back for far and away his weakest effort yet.
The film opens in 1995, as a young woman named Anna is sold into prostitution for a crime boss named Karasov (Radivoje Bukvic). Fifteen years later, Anna (Loan Chabanol) is ready to make her escape. With three other girls in tow, Anna calls on professional transporter Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) to cruise them around France, stealing millions of dollars from Karasov and burning his assets to the ground. To make sure Frank stays on task, Anna kidnaps his father, Frank, Sr. (Ray Stevenson), a boozy, retired defense contractor who has no problem being held captive by four beautiful women.
Refueled has the look and feel of a prequel, with a fresh-faced young pup playing a Frank Martin who hasn’t quite grown into his suit and the addition of Transporter Dad to the mix. Despite this, the film takes place in 2010, two years after Jason Statham’s last turn in Transporter 3. (There’s no telling where the TV series fits into all this, though I’m betting it’s not particularly important.) This was a series built around Statham’s particular charisma, and his departure meant forcing the franchise to re-align itself as best it could. Ed Skrein has some big, grumpy shoes to fill, and he really only succeeds when he’s asked to deliver a beatdown. His take on Martin is more of a robotic boy scout than Statham’s tortured ex-soldier.
Ray Stevenson seems to be the only one who realizes what kind of B-grade schlock he’s wandered into, because he’s the only one having any fun. The rest of the film is so weighed down by fashion models giving wooden speeches about sex trafficking and codes of morality, but over here is this scruffy old guy yucking it up with the ladies and having a ball. I think Luc Besson and his co-writers missed an opportunity here. Instead of trying to reboot The Transporter for a younger actor, maybe they should’ve tried for an older, more grizzled Transporter. Maybe a Transporter who’s seen so many deals go bad that he’s forced himself to loosen up and actually enjoy his work. This series is already a kind of Eurotrash Smokey and the Bandit, so why not, right?
When Transporter Dad isn’t around, Refueled really only works when the ladies are busy pulling off their various heists. It’s storytelling 101: The characters with the clearest motives and desires are the easiest to invest in, but even then, the heists are so haphazardly defined that it’s never clear exactly what they’re after until they have it. Nor does it help that all four of them wear the same “black dress and blonde wig” disguise for most of the film. The other women do have names, but without looking them up, I honestly couldn’t tell you which was which.
Refueled’s best action sequence is also indicative of the film as a whole. While Anna is busy hacking into a computer at a nightclub, Frank finds himself backstage locked in a storage room with a group of thugs. He dispatches the first three guys quickly, as the camera spins around him doling out the pain one punch at a time. Then a fourth thug enters the fight. The other three get up, and they do this dance all over again. Frank’s exit from this scene feels like the setup to a climactic fight with a fifth thug, but it never materializes. Instead, Frank leaves the storage room, makes his way back to his car just in time for a new fight with a completely different dynamic. Scenes keep building to what we assume is a climax, but instead changes gears before we ever get a payoff. When the payoff does finally arrive, it isn’t satisfying because the game has changed so often that we’ve completely given up trying to play.
Not only is Transporter Refueled the victim of severely diminished returns, it’s also a victim of some hilariously bad timing. Its general premise is almost note for note the same as this year’s other part 4/franchise reinvention, Mad Max Fury Road, and also has the misfortune to open in theaters the same week that film hits DVD. So if you’re still wondering what my recommendation is for this weekend, just go hit up a redbox and hope it still has a copy left. Or better yet, just wait until next week when Fury Road returns to theaters.Liked This? Share It!