One day not too long ago I was sitting in a theater waiting to watch some movie, the identity of which has by now dissolved into the fountain of time. (that’s not a real saying, I just made it up. My audience deserves new sayings, not the same old shit they’ve heard before and understand.) And suddenly there was a trailer for a sequel that probaly nobody, and definitely not me, asked for. The movie of course was THE TRANSPORTER 2 in case you forgot which review you’re reading here. There was kicking, jumping, cars flipping, things exloding, a half naked lingerie wearing sexy nurse assassin with makeup smeared down her eyes Tammy Faye Baker style, that sort of thing. There was this ridiculous shot where The Transporter jumps his BMW from one parking garage into another and skids out right on the edge of the thing. All that flash and bang got me excited and I realized that somehow, even though I kind of hated THE TRANSPORTER, I wanted to see the sequel. I can’t remember ever being excited about a sequel to a movie I didn’t like. But like Jesus and the correctional system said, you gotta give a guy a second chance.
Well I am happy to report now that I’ve finally seen the thing that The Transporter series is full rehabilitated and ready to rejoin society. This is a real dumb movie, completely ridiculous, and pretty god damned great. It’s credited as directed by the guy who did UNLEASHED/DANNY THE DOG, with action direction by Corey Yuen. (The original was credited to director Corey Yuen and second unit director UNLEASHED guy.) The producer and co-writer is Luc Besson, who used to be an admired director but now mainly just produces ridiculous movies like this. I think it’s kind of his specialty to come up with silly and absurd action concepts and then do them with a straight face, which is what makes this one fun. It used to be a Hong Kong style but now it’s pretty much the domain of Besson.
Jason Statham plays Frank somethingorother, the Transporter of the title. He is a guy who looks cool in a white shirt and black suit and tie, and is good at driving expensive cars, as well as kickboxing. He starts out driving a BMW in this one which makes you wonder what would happen if he fought Clive Owen’s THE HIRE character. I think we got a new alien vs. the predators type deal in the making here, and at the same time advertising cars. Maybe they could each be advertising a different car and whichever car sells more is the one who wins. And then they fight Freddy.
Anyway in the first one Frank Transporter had to deliver a “package” and he kept saying stupid shit like “rule number one: never open the package.” Well in this one Frank is doing a favor for somebody (never explained) so instead of doing highly illegal shit he’s driving some rich asshole (Matthew Modine)’s kid to school. Also the wife is played by some super model who obviously has the hots for him. The bad news is that Frank is still constantly listing different rules for different things. The good news is he just uses them to lecture the little kid so it’s more pathetic than annoying.
Normally driving kids to school would be a waste of Frank Transporter’s talents, but fortunately this kid happens to be the son of some drug czar dude and therefore is kidnapped by colorful terrorists working for south american drug lords. They’re just trying to inject him with a poison that will infect all the drug czars at an upcoming conference, but Frank interupts them so they take the kid and ask for a ransom as well as infecting him with the plague.
Well Transporter rule number 236 of section 42C (third paragraph of page 283 in the Revised Transportational Ethics Manual) is to always keep your word, and as luck would have it Frank accidentally promised the little crumb crusher that he wouldn’t allow anyone, including doctors and/or mercenaries dressed as doctors, to harm him. That is why he spends the rest of the movie fighting dudes, climbing things, jumping off things, etc.
The main villain is just some dude with an accent, but the best villain is the dude’s girlfriend Lola. She’s kind of a punky tough looking babe who we first meet in her underwear dancing and listening to headphones. This shows that she is a free spirited young lady, which explains why she spends most of the movie wearing underwear or lingerie in public. Later she is briefly disguised as a nurse but she pulls open her dress to reveal her guns. The main question raised by that exciting trailer I mentioned earlier was “Why does the deadly lingerie nurse assassin have her makeup all smeared?” I thought maybe she is a tragic character who cries whenever she has to kill people while dressed as a half naked nurse. Or better yet, maybe the makeup is already smeared at the beginning and they never even say why. That would be cool. Well it turns out that movies like this involve alot of exploding and catching on fire, which means that sometimes the sprinklers go off.
Lola has a couple good moments. At one point she is surrounded by cops and she holds up her guns like she’s gonna fight them. We don’t see what happens but shortly after she catches up with the Transporter, and she’s driving a cop car. (You see how that works, your imagination fills in the blanks. the power of the human mind.) Later she fights him in her boyfriend’s apartment and does some aerial acrobatics from the beaded curtains. Unfortunately she ends up getting thrown into a wall of spikes and dying. Tip to bad guys or, really, anyone: don’t have a wall of spikes in your apartment. I know it looks cool but if you think about it it could also be dangerous. Interior decorators please heed this warning, or Lola’s death truly was in vain.
(Also, the guy doesn’t seem to know that his girlfriend is skewered back at the apartment. Maybe it’s best that he’ll never survive his inevitable climactic kickboxing fight with Frank Transporter. It would be sad to see him come home and find her impaled on the wall spikes. I mean how could he not blame himself too, unless it was her idea to have wall spikes. I suppose it does seem more like something she would be into. But we don’t really know for sure.)
If there’s one character in this movie that’s cooler than Lola, it would have to be our hero Frank Transporter. This is one cool motherfucker. In the opening scene he’s besieged by a gang of carjackers and he protests the BMW is brand new and he doesn’t want them to scratch it. They want to fight him and he stops them to say that his suit was just dry cleaned, and he takes off the jacket before beating them all silly. Later in the movie when he gets dragged across black paint and has a sleeve torn off you feel bad for him. Because this dry cleaning backstory has already been established. That’s what I call some fuckin WRITING.
Frank’s main mode of transportation is cars, and there are some intense high speed driving scenes. It does go into cheesy CGI at times but most of the stunts are real and supposedly Statham did alot of it himself, including driving. Although the car garage jump is hilarious, the best car related feat by far is when he is forced at gunpoint to get in the BMW, and he sees reflected in a puddle that there is a bomb underneath the car. So he jumps it off a pile of junk and flips it just right so that the bomb on the undercarriage hooks onto a crane and detaches.
In another scene he actually drives above an alley, straddling two separate buildings. And that’s right, you guessed correctly, there is a wino in the alley who sees this, then looks at his bottle and decides to quit drinking. Man, you can’t even count how many movie characters have been cured of drink by flying saucers, giant monsters or crazy stunts. Lucky motherfuckers had it easy. They skipped over 11 whole steps.
The Transporter is also good at other stuff besides cars though. He is a topnotch pedestrian – in one scene he jumps straight up as two cars collide beneath him. In another one he chases a man on foot, then steals a jet ski and jumps it onto a street and then climbs into a bus. That’s three modes of travel in one chase. The climax takes place in an airplane that spins out of control, so Frank and Other Guy fight while tumbling around inside a spinning jet.
Mr. Yuen did a great job choreographing these fights. This guy has worked on some mediocre American movies here and there (like THE ONE and BULLETPROOF MONK) but if you go through his filmography it’s like the damn phone book. He played Uncle Po in HERO. He was in HELL’Z WIND STAFF and THE FATAL FLYING GUILLOTINE. He choreographed FONG SAI YUK and ZU WARRIORS OF THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN and directed MY FATHER IS A HERO. And the ridiculous NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER, where Van Damme played an evil Russian. This guy is a legend and you can see his fingerprints all over this movie. Like Jackie Chan these guys manage to work all kinds of objects into the fight as improvised weapons. There are some pretty spectacular moves using firehoses, for example. My favorite one though is when they’re fighting in a doctor’s office and a dude throws a skeleton at The Transporter. That might be a first.
One thing that could be improved I think is the dialogue. Although it has all the ridiculous action you ask for, there was only one really funny line. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be funny, but that’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. It happens when Frank manages to hang onto the landing gear of the villain’s private jet as it takes off and then make his way onboard. They have an exchange something like this:
FRANK TRANSPORTER: I’m afraid that your flight’s been cancelled.
VILLAIN: I’m afraid that you’ve been cancelled.
That’s a great line, but there’s not anything else to match it. Also, I feel kind of weird about bringing this up, but… have you ever noticed– I mean… I’m a bit uncomfortable because I think Frank may have a problem with, you know, black people. In the opening scene when a white girl and a gang of black men try to steal his car, he makes some comment to the white girl about the company she keeps. I thought that was weird but since the guys were in fact carjacking him, maybe I can take what he said at face value and not read more into it. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was not a racial comment. You know, maybe he’s completely color blind, he didn’t even know they were black. It didn’t even occur to him that it might be interpreted that way. Who knows.
But then later there’s a scene where he’s fighting one of these colorful black villains they got in Besson movies, and he puts his fists in watermelons and then punches the guy. And I swear I didn’t imagine this, it was really a scene in the movie. It’s a low down shame because it’s a pretty fuckin badass move but for god’s sake why does he have to use watermelons as weapons against a black man? I can understand if it was honey melons or maybe some larger melon. Or a pumpkin. Or if he was fighting a white guy. There are many ways that it would’ve been a socially acceptable badass move. But after the comment in the parking garage and then this I can’t help but be suspicious of the guy. If he’s not racist he sure has a knack for getting himself in some uncomfortable situations that make him look bad. What is this, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM?
I think Frank is okay with the gays, though. In fact, the director said in an interview that although it’s not stated, they decided the character is gay. Like BLACKJACK, there’s alot of things that could be read different ways. For example, he tells the wife he can’t get it on with her “because of who I am” which could either mean because he’s The Transporter or because he’s A Gay Man. And the inspector from part 1 comes to visit him which could either mean the movie needs comic relief or it could mean they are lovers now.
If you assume that he is in fact gay it makes more sense what’s going on with Lola, taking her clothes off in front of him and licking his face and what not, being aggressively sexual towards him to throw him off his game.
The weird thing about this gay business, though, is that he had sex with a woman in part 1. And because he wanted to, not as part of some sham marriage. Gay rule #1: don’t have sex with a woman. Of course, he always breaks his own rules.
Overall I’m pretty sure that TRANSPORTER 2 is way better than part 1. But I do have to acknowledge the possibility that I just wasn’t being fair to part 1 or wasn’t ready to be seduced by its soon-to-be-gay charms. Because when I look back over my review of part 1 I’m criticizing it for being dumb, but then here I am praising this one to high heaven for the same thing. But my feeling about part 2 is that it has a higher volume of ridiculous action and a lower percentage of gratuitous plot. It probaly helps that it’s only 80 minutes so probaly 10 or 15 minutes shorter than the first one. A brisker pace and a tighter package for easy consumption.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.