Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Transporter (2002)

Director: Louis Leterrier                              Writers: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Film Score: Stanley Clarke                         Cinematography: Pierre Morel
Starring: Jason Statham, Shu Qi, Matt Schulze and François Berléand

Yes, it’s the European equivalent of Smokey and the Bandit, and yet there’s something subtly captivating about The Transporter. The comedy isn’t as broad, but it’s definitely there. Jason Statham is the super hero of this European film about the man with no name willing to deliver anything, no questions asked. Written by the great Luc Besson, it has all of his signature charm, wit, and suspense. Jason Statham is perfect for the role, quiet, mysterious, and with a sense of irony. The popularity of the film is undeniable, especially considering that there have now been three films in the franchise to date.

This one starts with a bank heist. Four criminals in ski masks pile into his car, ready for the escape. Just one problem: the deal was for only three. When it becomes clear that Statham isn’t going anywhere, the lead robber shoots one, dumps him out of the car, and a high-speed chase ensues. It’s not James Bond or Jason Bourne, it’s far more of a comic book chase, which means there’s less suspense and more fun. But on his next job he breaks his own rule. The package turns out to be Shu Qi, and she is more trouble than he ever bargained for. Suddenly the improbabilities, not to mention the impossibilities, begin to pile up in record numbers. Director Corey Yuen did the fight scenes and he has a penchant for close quarters combat. The editing is so quick it’s almost difficult to tell what’s happening sometimes, but it’s all good fun.

Of course, we have to have a Smokey in the mix, and that is François Berléand as the inspector, but he’s not the one after Statham. Qi, it turns out, has a father who runs an international transportation business, and happens to smuggle in Asian slaves as well. When she puts Statham in the middle of the ring of thieves he’s arrested, but Berléand cuts him loose in order to conduct a one-man investigation and find out what’s in those containers. Like all good super heroes, the transporter is a moral man. Our first glimpse of this is when he figures out his human cargo is Qi, and he buys her a bottle of orange juice and a straw. This “flaw” in his character actually saves his life later on. And, of course, is responsible for his desire to help those who can’t help themselves.

Viewed one way, the film is a lot of action fluff, and that’s all right. It is that. But the European sensibility is what makes it watchable for me. Once you allow yourself to be charmed by the make-believe aspect of it, and don’t take it seriously, it’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours being entertained. The Transporter is not a great film, but it’s certainly a great ride.

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