Sunday, August 16, 2015


Sequels rarely live up to their predecessors, but French director Louis Leterrier's new big noisy dumb action-thriller "The Transporter 2" (***1/2 OUT OF ****) with lean, mean Jason Statham behind the wheel again, proves the exception to the rule. Mind you, the plot of the original "Transporter" about the contemporary international slave trade merely provided the framework for a number of audacious auto stunts and hyper-kinetic martial arts combat face-offs that obscured its politically correct plot. Famed Hong Kong martial arts guru Cory Yuen did double-duty on the first "Transporter" (2002) as director and action choreographer. (No, you don't have to worry about walking blindly into "Transporter 2." However, if you fork over the bucks for the new DVD 'Special Delivery' version of the original "Transporter," you'll find a free ticket inside, so you can kill two birds with one stone. The first "Transporter" ranked as a roller-coaster of a crime thriller.) This time around Yuen serves strictly as action choreographer, while art director Louis Leterrier takes over the helm on a follow-up film that surpasses its predecessor by virtue of a bigger budget for larger, more outlandish stunts and more inventive martial arts aerobatics. An equally politically correct plot about an attempt to exterminate the world's head drug enforcement honchos at an international narcotics summit provides the scaffold for these stunts. No, "Transporter 2" isn't a foil the assassination yarn. Initially, this Twentieth Century Fox film resembles director Tony Scott's slam-bang, high-octane, actioneer "Man on Fire" (2004) with Denzel Washington as a bullet-proof bodyguard determined to rescue kidnap victim Dakota Fanning. Happily, Leterrier and his scenarists, producer Luc ("Le Femme Nikita") Besson and writer Robert Mark Kamen, ditch the child-in-jeopardy plot early on for bigger game. Nevertheless, they were shrewd enough to know that it's not the game that counts so much but how you play it. The kind of audience that will relish "Transporter 2" are those who refuse to let realism dictate the bottom line. They know from the get-go that the hero can't die. Genuine connoisseurs of the genre make allowances for stunts and fights that violate the laws of gravity. In big, dumb, noisy action movies, anything visually possible is plausible no matter how implausible it ultimately is. Director Robert Rodriguez's shoot'em up sagas "Desperado" (1995) with Antonio Banderas as well as "Once Upon A Time in Mexico" (2003) exemplify the prime examples of big, dumb, noisy action thrillers. Some stunts in "Transporter 2," especially the fast-car driving, have their antecedents in older movies. At least, Leterrier and company have taken the stunts a bit farther than previous ones. Sadly, "Transporter 2" suffers from clearly obvious computer-generated style video game footage that undercuts the dramatic impact of the aerial scenes. Furthermore, the quality of the matte shots that stand in for different backgrounds is pretty awful.

Anybody that saw the original "Transporter" knows that British protagonist Frank Martin (Jason Statham of "Snatch") is more than just a top-notch driver who can get out of the worst traffic jam. Moreover, he can kick, punch, and shoot his way out of the most ominous predicament. In this latest entry in the trilogy, we learn that Frank is ex-special forces and led an elite commando unit for five years specializing in search and destroy.  According to the authorities, Frank has been in and out of Lebanon, Syria, and Sudan.  "The man is a hunter," Stappleton (Keith David) grimly informs the family of an abducted child when they arrive at his house to set up a surveillance system to track the kidnappers. The predicaments that Frank faces in "Transporter 2" make the tough times in "The Transporter" look like a cake walk. When the action opens, we find Frank newly transplanted from the south of France to sunny Miami, Florida. Rather than acting as the wheel man for crazy bank robbers or human slavers, Frank is chauffeuring a high profile politician's son, Jack Billings (newcomer Hunter Clary), back and forth to elementary school. Actually, Frank is helping out a friend by temping for him. Meanwhile, Jack's parents are U.S. Drug Enforcement Czar Billings (Matthew Modine of "Full Metal Jacket") and his neglected wife Audrey (Amber Valetta of "What Lies Beneath"). You don't have to be a genius to figure out that a kidnapping lies right around the bend, and that's part of the fun of "Transporter 2." Like the previous "Transporter," "Transporter 2" doesn't stray far from the sure-fire formula that fueled the first movie's word-of-mouth success on DVD. Of course, nobody could survive the close scrapes that Frank survives, but then nobody leads a life as charming as Frank. During an early scene, Frank nimbly thwarts a carjacking. However, Frank's sense of style makes the scene memorable. Before he tangles with a thuggish gang of ruffians backed up by a bimbo school girl armed with an automatic pistol, our hero sheds his recently dry-cleaned suit jacket, folds it neatly atop his sleek, shiny car, then demolishes the opposition without a second thought. As her compatriots in crime lay writhing in agony on the pavement of the parking garage around her, the school girl pitches her pistol and takes a powder. This amusing little incident nearly makes Frank tardy for his appointment to pick up Hunter. Punctuality guides Frank's way of thinking. During the brief time that they have known each other, Hunter and Frank have managed to bond. Yes, "Transporter 2" takes short-cuts when other more realistically-oriented movies might wallow about for twenty minutes showing the bonds as the characters forge them. Frank and Hunter grow close enough that Hunter treats Frank as the father that the youth wishes that his real-life dad were. Audrey notices this bond when she isn't quarreling with her husband, who has let his duties override his home life. Into the storyline steps tough guy Gianni Chellini (hunky Italian thesp Alessandro Gassman of "Quiet Chaos") who dispatches his henchmen to kidnap Hunter. As one of his ruthless henchmen--perhaps—henchwomen, statuesque model Kate Nauta makes an impressive as well as an intimidating killer babe called Lola. She emerges like a cross-between of a sexy Victoria's Secrets model and a trigger-happy small arms sales lady. She has a tattoo on her inside right thigh of a heavily armed rabbit that reads "Death by Rabbit." 

Aside from one drawn-out dialogue scene between Billings' lonely wife and Frank, "Transporter 2" never breaks its stride. Clocking in at Spartan 88 minutes, this adrenalin-laced, Twentieth Century Fox release features a sympathetic hero, a fiendish villain, and the kind of action that provides a sense of catharsis for audiences that love big, dumb, noisy action movies. Two major scenes stand out for their sheer implausibility. First, Frank eludes the police by crashing through the barrier at a high-rise parking garage and plunging his automobile safely into the confines of another high-rise parking garage across the street.  As if to compensate, Frank's car slides to a halt sideways at the edge of the parking garage.  Second, the villains have placed an explosive device under the chassis of Frank's car and he dislodges it by launching his car into the air so that he can knock the device off by hitting a dangling block and tackle hook hanging from a gantry.  The best parts of "Transporter 2" involve Frank's former nemesis, French Inspector Tarconi (Francois Berleand), who comes to visit Frank in Miami.  Neither man gets to see the other until Frank wraps up the kidnapping caper.  No sooner has Tarconi arrived at Frank's house than the kidnapping takes place and the U.S. Marshals descend on Frank's house in hope of catching him in residence. Instead, they find Tarconi baking madeleines.  At the police station, one of the Marshals finds it interesting that Tarconi would take the liberty of using another man's kitchen. Taken aback by such questioning, Tarconi explains simply enough that he is French.  Afterward, he appraises the terrible looking sandwich that the authorities have provided him and sets about using their kitchen to furnish them with something edible. This subplot and Frank's use of Tarconi to acquire information for him while he is at police headquarters is imaginative and offsets some of the preposterous quality of the action.