THE TRANSPORTER: REFUELED Movie Review – Faux, Ersatz Statham Is No Statham At All
Franchises — even franchises wholly or partly dependent on the charisma, personality, and the physicality of a central actor or performer — rarely, if ever, go gently into the night. Instead, they go into suspended animation or prolonged hibernation, awaiting the convergence of economic circumstances and audience-driven nostalgia to spring a sequel, remake, or better yet, the equivalent of a universal reset, a reboot. Ultimately, of course, moviegoers will determine the viability (or lack thereof) of a reboot, but even when one fails commercially, another reboot three, four, or more years from now will rise like the rambling dead to take its place on cinema screens, preferably before pre-adult moviegoers head back to school for the next nine months. But here we are, once again, faced with yet another ill-conceived, poorly executed reboot, The Transporter: Refueled, so ill-conceived and so poorly executed that moviegoers, at least moviegoers in an alternate universe where minimal standards of quality apply, will rise up and shout as one, “No more!”
Unfortunately, we all know better. We know that won’t happen. As long as moviegoers support The Transporter: Refueled in sufficient numbers, we’ll get another sequel (and another one and…), but for that to happen, Jason Statham’s ersatz replacement as Frank Martin (the “transporter” of the series), Ed Skrein, has to pass more than the eye or hair test (he undoubtedly passes the former, but misses out on the latter). While he more or less shares Statham’s physical body type, he doesn’t share the physicality that made Statham an action star, albeit an action star consigned to mid-budget, modestly performing actioners. At the high end among action stars that can not only do his own stunts, but also handle himself convincingly in a fight thanks to martial arts training, Statham’s fluidity, agility, or dexterity isn’t commonly shared by other action stars, including an action star hopeful like Skrein. Skrein repeatedly reveals his limitations as a fighter, forcing editor-turned-director Camille Delamarre to use quick cuts and camera moves to make him look more impressive. Spoiler: He fails.
Skrein’s attempts to imitate Statham’s natural gruffness also fail to convince, but to be fair, he’s hamstrung by a thoroughly uninspired, logic-challenged screenplay credited to series producer and writer Luc Besson, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage, beginning with the hackneyed decision to unnecessarily fill out Martin’s backstory by adding his father, Frank Martin, Sr. (Ray Stevenson), a retired government spy trying to spend some quality time with his son on the French Rivera where Frank Jr. plies his trade as a “no questions asked” driver for anyone with a bag full of cash and the right introduction. Frank Jr. makes the obvious mistake of agreeing to drive Anna (Loan Chabanol) and her blonde bewigged associates on an afternoon errand. Of course, their errand is more than just a stop-and-shop, it’s a robbery, the first of several, that Anna and her associates, revenge-minded prostitutes, hope to complete, each one targeting a key member of the prostitution/human trafficking ring that virtually enslaved them.
That first robbery also serves as an excuse — a weak one, it should be added, given that could have simply driven away seconds earlier, but lingered suspiciously in front of a bank until the local police finally notice Frank Jr.’s idling car — for the first of several (“several” being three, or to be more accurate, 2 and ½) car chases. They’re competently, if unmemorably, shot and edited by Delamarre and his team, punctuated by the usual near-escapes (for Frank Jr.) and non-escapes (for the pursuing police cars), and a couple of minor explosions before Anna, a not-quite-evil mastermind, reveals she’s kidnapped Frank Sr. as a means to keep Frank Jr. working with her (or rather for her) on her mini-rampage, complete with at least one more car chase and several unenthusiastically choreographed fight scenes where Frank Jr. seems to lose more than win (but somehow still escapes with only minor bruising and bleeding), through the streets and night clubs of the French Rivera.
And that’s before we even talk about or even consider the usually regressive, retrograde depiction of women. Even as Delamarre and Besson attempt to inject contemporary relevance (i.e., human trafficking) into the Transporter reboot, it’s all a surface feint, a bid to avoid or deflect any criticism of the depiction of female characters. Almost every female character is either a prostitute or a prostitute trying to escape prostitution. For all her apparent smarts and savvy, Anna still comes off as ruthless, willing to sacrifice others, include Frank Jr. and Frank Sr., for her own ends. The other semi-powerful woman in The Transporter: Refueled is meant to function as Anna’s shadow or mirror image, but Delamarre can’t resist depicting her gyrating in a bikini while her man and head pimp/trafficker conducts business from a hot tub in his multi-million dollar yacht. It’s equal parts prurient, exploitative, and risible. Ultimately, it’s all enough to cause even the most diehard of diehard Transporter fans — surely they must exist, otherwise the singular rationale for a franchise reboot becomes null and void — to slip quietly, effortlessly into a well-earned nap or, better yet, a deep slumber.