A film review by Craig J. Koban
2005, PG-13, 88 mins.
Frank Martin: Jason Statham / Gianni: Alessandro Gassman / Audrey Billings: Amber Valletta
/ Lola: Katie Nauta / Mr. Billings: Matthew Modine / Dimitri: Jason Flemyng
Stappleton: Keith David /
Jack Billings: Hunter Clary
Being an amateur film critic (remember, I don’t get paid for this gig…yet) I often go to the movies with friends or family. More often than not, I usually see most of these films that I review with my Head Review Editor and close hetero-lifemate – Steve Barss. Steve, like any good friend, often agrees to disagree with me on many things, movies not being excluded from that list. I am a strong advocate that indifference and disagreements breed good friendships, so Steve and I are no exception. Many may feel that seeing a film with a friend and then listening to their opinions could taint your future review of that film. I would argue no, seeing that hearing their opinions sometimes only fuels and strengthens my own, in some sort of self-serving way.
Anyway, both my editor and I went to see the latest auctioneer called TRANSPORTER 2, and seeing that both of us are less-than-subtle martial art film fans, I saw this as an opportunity to engage in some kung fu escapism. However, I will be quick to point out that we have not always agreed on every martial art mayhem induced film we have seen (I stand by my ONG BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR review, Stevie). Nevertheless, we went, we watched, and then we left TRANSPORTER 2. Before hearing what Steve had to say I was more than ready to give the film a bad review, seeing as I usually do not let anyone else’s thoughts taint my views. Yet, to his credit, Steve is a great critic in the way he can encapsulate his opinion in a matter of mere words, whereas the pompous, intellectually blowhard in me is incapable of doing so. When we left the theatre he very aptly called TRANSPORTER 2 “an incredible romp of complete and utter incredulity.”
Suddenly, I was able to reformulate how I felt about the film. Saying this film was preposterous was not a criticism, but a heartfelt compliment on his part. As a result of this sentiment, the more I thought about this film the more I sort of perversely respected its unique ability and yearning to be as utterly implausible as possible. This is not one of those dumb, testosterone driven action films that is moronic and has no level of self-awareness about it. TRANSPORTER 2 rushes by during its 88 minute running time and goes out of its way to be as unrelentingly laughable and ridiculous with its set piece as humanly possible. The film, through time, commands more of my respect than contempt for its very willingness to be stupid. It's action scenes, which are numerous and have a lot of flair and gusto, leap well beyond the largest gulf of unlikely logic that you laugh both with and at them. As a result, TRANSPORTER 2, with the right frame of mind, can be glorious and insipid fun or devastatingly infantile and ridiculous.
There are many moments throughout the course of the film where I stared at the screen in total disbelief and then sort of chuckled it off, like it was some sort of inane dream. One sequence in particular is a real howler. The hero of the film is essentially forced into his car knowing very well that there is a bomb underneath it. Of course, the bad guys will not detonate the bomb too close, fearing that they would be caught up in the blast. So, what do they do? They wait for the car to be a respectable distance away which, of course, gives the hero ample time to get out of this sticky predicament. Now, he obviously loves his car too much to simply get out and make a run for it. Instead, he takes the car into an incline, rather perfectly, and manages to spin the car completely in midair while enabling it to catch the bomb on its underbelly to a nearby crane that subsequently pulls it off. The bomb harmlessly explodes beyond the car and the car itself, while spinning several rotations in mid air, manages to hit the ground safely. Yup. Sure. Uh-huh.
Oh, there are even more moments of impassable logic and reality defying physics than just that one, my friends. There is yet another moment where the hero is able to commandeer a perfectly placed jet ski and ramps it up on to a nearby city street and then hurtles himself on to a speeding bus where one of the bad guys is lurking. There is also another scene where he uses a fire hose in ways I only thought were possible by Jackie Chan’s hands for disposing of enemies. Even more significant is a moment of unbelievable and precarious circumstances where the hero, being chased up a parking lot building, manages to achieve the necessary velocity to crash through what seems like several feet of concrete and is able to ramp his car to a nearby parking garage, which seems like several hundred feet away. Of course, any normal car would have been totaled, but the hero’s car lands safely. Man, that thing has some seriously good shocks.
Maybe I am being a bit facetious and lame with my look at the film’s action set pieces. The action in TRANSPORTER 2 is never meant to carry the same level of gritty verisimilitude that other modern action films have. No, this is a comic book film that cheerfully disregards all levels of believability and scientific law to place its hero in the most dangerous set of circumstances possible and then imagine the most improbable solution to get out of these situations. Saying that logic is hurtled out of the window with this film misses the point.
This movie does not exist for us to be taken in by its story or characters and to take pot shots at its absurd moments of mayhem. The pleasure in this film is that the makers know that the whole film is outlandish. Despite the fact that the film is never quite played for either straight laughs or grim drama, it nevertheless successfully places its tongue squarely in its cheek and tries to garner our appreciation for the levels it goes for its inhuman action scenes. I think I got this point hammered home to me when the hero manages to leapfrog out of the way before two cars collide head on with one another. He lands on top of the wreckage and adjusts his suit and tie, seeing as he just got it out of the cleaners.
TRANSPORTER 2 is, of course, a direct sequel to THE TRANSPORTER, an action film that I loved and also found to be “an entertaining romp of complete and utter incredulity.” The same writers are back on board (both films were written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen) as is Jason Statham back as the icy cold, British version of the Clint Eastwood Man-With-No-Name protagonist - Frank. The first film highlighted Frank as a man of little significance (he had zero back story and was not really all that multifaceted), but the key to any great action hero is in his/her charisma, and Statham has it in abundance.
He makes both TRANSPORTER films work and he plays the part with an undeniable and never-ending amount of cool detachment and soft-spoken determination. He says few words and when he does, we more or less believe that he will definitely keep his word. In terms of the martial arts sequences, Statham seems to have achieved a level of inventiveness and fearless resolve that would make Jackie Chan and Jet Li proud. I fondly remember a virtuoso scene in the first TRANSPORTER film where he covers himself in motor oil in order to defeat his numerous enemies more easily. After all, it’s harder for someone to beat you up when they can’t hold on to you.
TRANSPORTER 2 lovingly places Frank in even more dire predicaments. The plot is essentially rubbish and only exists as a crutch for the film’s action. This time around Frank has accepted a much more noble transporter job – he is hired to protect a little schoolboy named jack (Hunter Clary). Jack is the son of a millionaire pharmaceuticals CEO (Matthew Modine, overacting something fierce) who has a rather problematic relationship with his gorgeous wife (Amber Valletta). Clearly, when you have an egomaniacal CEO, a wife that hates him, and a son thrown into the mix than this situation seems ripe for a good ol’ fashioned kidnapping. Faster than you can say “ransom” a group of deadly thugs kidnap little John.
This group is a colorfully eclectic organization. There is the deadly and sexy Lola (Katie Nauta) who looks like she just stepped off of the set of SIN CITY. Her specialty is guns, and big ones that are capable of dispensing hundreds of rounds at a time. She also does this while wearing lingerie and heavy eye makeup. Her lover is Gianni (Alessandro Gassman) who snickers his way to a performance of pure, unadulterated evil. He’s one of those dastardly figures that chills out by beating up on his henchman, so you just know he’s bad news.
TRANSPORTER 2 is by no means a totally fun ride. Matthew Modine overplays his role to the point of annoyance and his wife is no less a caricature than he is. The film also has a preponderance of truly God-awful visual effects in it. An extended scene at the end of the film that involves a plummeting airplane makes such horrendous use of modern CGI technology that outdated models on wires would have proven more believable. Then there is also the scheme of the kidnappers themselves, and as the film’s plot progresses it is revealed that their kidnapping scheme was more than just that. Their ultimate goals are audacious, to be sure, but are also laughably nonsensical.
But, all of that does not matter, because TRANSPORTER 2 is not an exercise in suspending our disbelief, nor does it take any pains to do so. The film is a stellar action film in the sense that it provides us with an incredibly resourceful and tough hero to root for and involves him in a lot of kinetic action pieces that are high on energy, but lacking in credibility. And you know what, who cares? Sure, you may bowl over with incredible laughter at this film’s sights, but the more I thought about them the more I saw them as the ultimate point of this film. TRANSPORTER 2 is gleefully and purposely an exercise in over-the-top and flamboyantly silly filmmaking and if you stare at the screen in a state of complete awe and disbelief, than I feel that the film succeeded on its levels. This is brainless escapism at its most polished and fulfilling. Yes, it surly is an an entertaining romp of complete and utter incredulity and for that, Mr. Barss, thanks for letting your simple comment help my review write itself.