Can the Transporter franchise survive without the chrome-domed dynamic which is human adrenal gland Jason Statham? In three films (not the equally unnecessary TV series), the buff British badass made his mark, taking his career further than a few cult films could. Indeed, after Guy Ritchie launched him, Luc Besson turned him into an international action superstar. Now, an unlucky 13 years after Statham made Frank Martin a viable stunt superhero, we are getting the inevitable reboot.
Like Madison Avenue and its “new and improved” product redesigns, Statham has abandoned ship, turning the job of playing stoic and strong to Game of Throne‘s Ed Skrein. Both have a heavy Cockney accent, but that’s where the comparisons end. Statham can sell almost anything, his combination of muscle and mannerism taking up for any real acting depth. Skrein doesn’t have the same level of magnetism. Instead, The Transporter: Refueled tries for a bit of character development, and when it does, it destroys what little forward momentum this mediocre genre outing has.
Skrein’s Martin is always trying to impress his daddy, Frank Sr. (a welcome Ray Stevenson), an aging spy. At the start of the film, we watch a villain (Radivoje Bukvic) take control of the high class hookers in the Riviera. These girls then steal from him, hire this new Frank to drive them to “freedom,” and as a result, Frank’s father is kidnapped. Now, not only does he have to deal with a bunch of angry Eastern European thugs giving chase in expensive supercars and shooting at him with equally high quality weaponry, but Frank must also deal with a collection of women who play femme fatale and family foe. Yawn.
If all you wanted was a movie that fetishizes the tools of the Transporter’s trade — read: vehicles and violence — then you’ll have no problem with this revival. Skrein can’t save it, and Besson has been here before and done it better (has any filmmaker been so readily capable of recycling their ideas better than Mr. Taken?). On the plus side, The Transporter: Refueled has Camille Delamarre behind the lens, and his Brick Mansions redo of District B13 was equally serviceable. The editing may muddle the action, but our director doesn’t fall wholly into the blurry, handheld technique which often ruins these films.
But that doesn’t mean that The Transporter: Refueled is entertaining. Instead, it’s barely passable, a big screen do-over which feels both déjà vu-like familiar and “What the hell is this?” foreign. After we wipe Statham from our mind — which takes a while, given the new film’s flaws — we are left with a hollow center, a bunch of ridiculous rationales, and an ending which screams “Get ready for Part 2.” While Delamarre is doing his best, the rest of the movie makes contemporary gender politics look like something from a science fiction film. All the women in The Transporter: Refueled are portrayed as money-grubbing whores who can afford to dress well. They’re not characters, they’re crass compliments to the fantasies of the male demo in the audience.
Not that anyone really survives this film unscathed. Money will make people do deranged things, and offering up a movie which relied on a specific acting personality to work without that lead seems pretty stupid. But The Transporter: Refueled is the dictionary definition of that word. It doesn’t exist in the real world of viable security systems and non-stop surveillance. It minimizes the massive destruction that can take place in a social setting without any real response from government or law enforcement. And it proves that not anyone can step into a role previously owned by another.
Oh, and did we mention this is the beginning of a trilogy, a proposed prequel leading us right back to the original Transporter? If that sounds ludicrous, don’t worry. The Transporter: Refueled has more than enough preposterousness to go around. In fact, it’s its entire raison d’être.