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Entries in Transporter Refueled/The [2015] (1)

Friday
Sep042015

The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Skrein Test

I'm a deliberate moviegoer. Leaving my house for the multiplex is always a mission. But there are people (maybe a lot of them, maybe only the few I've observed) who treat ticket counters with the same caution-to-the-wind passivity as they do fast-food counters. Mouths agape and mumbling to their companions, they await cosmic instructions from red dot-matrix marquee as to how they’ll spend their next twenty dollars and ninety minutes. For them, movies are amusements, not art, and carry the same spiritual currency as roller coasters, slot machines, and McDonald's burger sauces.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. We cineastes may bristle at the idea of such low-brow randomness the way Catholics sneer at cell phones in church. But these people are the movie industry's lifeblood, the ones who make multi-million-dollar opening weekends possible. With that in mind, let's look at The Transporter Refueled, a McMixing of McElements from an action franchise hoping to make a comeback after being yanked from the menu in 2008.

It's unclear how or if director Camille Delamarre's movie fits into the Transporter universe. Is it a prequel to the 2002 original? Probably not, since it takes place in 2010, at least that's what the movie's math tells me--even though our hero, Frank Martin (Ed Skrein), drives the new-model Audi, and femme fatale Anna (Loan Chabanol) talks to people on an iPhone 6.

Is it an alternate-universe take on the material? Possibly. Jason Statham originated the "Transporter" role, playing a character named Frank Martin, who makes huge sums of money delivering questionable packages and not asking questions. Skrein also plays a character named Frank Martin, but he's not even as old as Statham was in the first film.

This time out, Frank has a reluctant companion, his retired-British-spy father (Ray Stevenson). He's also named Frank Martin. He's too old to be the elderly version of Statham, though, since Refueled ostensibly takes place only eight years after Transporter 1.

In our fast food analogy, these questions are akin to asking if the creatures in my burger combo were grass-fed before becoming pink slime.

It's clear that the screenwriters (including Adam Cooper, series co-creator Luc Besson, and a guy who's name is, fittingly, Bill Collage) don't care about continuity. They know their audience doesn't, either. Transporter fans pay to see ninety-minute Audi commercials, with a shaved-headed guy in a black suit beating the crap out of vaguely European pimps. The movie delivers that in spades, but we've seen it all before.

I skipped the second and third installments because the first Transporter helped make Statham the kind of international action star who comes out with seventeen identical movies a year. The three things that keep The Transporter Refueled from being a complete rip-off (of, basically, itself) are a comparatively strong cast of rebel-prostitute characters; some really impressive slow-motion cinematography of equally cool practical stunts; and the father/son relationship that lends Refueled some uncharacteristic heart.

Of course, the street-walkers-taking-down-organized-crime bit was done better in Sin City. The car stunts lose a some believability when one considers that the beautiful Audi doesn't get so much as dinged (though it does take an orgiastic slow-mo jaunt through a ring of busted fire hydrants that would make porn producers blush). And the Dad/Junior banter is straight out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

But it works. I don't know if Refueled marks the beginning of a new series, or the death of an old one, but there's definitely something in Skrein and Stevenson's exchanges that makes the film hard to dismiss. Skrein may look like a smoldering cologne model, but he's got presence, and doesn't just build a Statham homage (the characterizations are so different, in fact, as to blow my continuity musings out of the water).

If the producers are smart, they'll take The Transporter to Netflix. I would love to see a thirteen-episode, job-of-the-week series whose main thrust is Frank and Frank driving places and having flashbacks to top-secret adventures. No mysterious bank ledgers needed. No mountaintop fisticuffs with the vanilla villain (vanillain?) from Die Hard 5. Just a boy and his regimes-toppling dad having some laughs while zipping through the French countryside on their way to some illicit, lucrative gig.

I wouldn't leave the house for The Transporter Refueled. But I'd definitely order in.