Thursday, September 10, 2015
Tall, wiry, British actor Ed Skrein resembles the late Hollywood superstar actor James Coburn of the “Our Man Flint” franchise. Not only does Skrein make a suitable substitute for brawny Jason Statham in “The Transporter Refueled” (***1/2 OUT OF ****), but Skrein also appears agile enough to carry EuropaCorp’s cinematic reboot on the strength of his personality. Skrein and Statham are cut from the same cloth. Muscular, crew-cut, and rough hewn, these fellows tote a stick around on their shoulders and dare somebody presumptuous to knock it off. Statham looks more like a traditional movie hero because he fits Frank Martin like a surgical glove. Skrein looks like a far younger Frank Martin, and I believe writer/producer Luc Besson cast the former “Game of Thrones” actor for this quality. Skrein looks like he was born to kick butt, and he radiates a raw-edged spontaneity that makes him ideal as Statham’s replacement. Add to it his blue-collar British accent, and Skrein is reminiscent of Michael Caine when he was a Young Turk. Clearly, if the franchise performs at the box office like the Statham trilogy, Skrein could own the role until he sheds that lean, hungry, wolfish tenacity that he brings to his younger Frank Martin.
Meantime, “Brick Mansions” director Camille Delamarre stages several dynamic scenes in this swiftly-paced, $22-million thriller with as many audacious but entertaining escapades as any of Statham’s “Transporter” epics ever delivered. Instead of Inspector Marcel Tarconi (François Berléand) interfering with Frank Martin's activities, the new Transporter has to put up with his dear old dad, and British actor Ray Stevenson relishes the parental role with scene-stealing charm. Stevenson and Skrein have chemistry together, and it will be a sad day when one or the other departs from the franchise. Naturally, the production values are stunning; the scenery is gorgeous; the close-quarters combat scenes savage enough; the sexy babes provocative; and Michel Julienne's careening car chase sequences are exhilarating.
Neither Delamarre nor scenarists Adam Cooper and Bill Cottage of the forthcoming “Allegiant: Part 1,” including Luc Besson of the original “Transporter,” have tampered with the formula. Indeed, the same rules still stand in “The Transporter Refueled.” First, Frank dictates that the deal must never change. Second, Frank insists on no names. Third, Frank never opens the package. The melodrama of either any “Transporter” movie or television episode grows out of our hero’s decision to break his own rules. This time around Frank Martin doesn’t have to second guess French Police Inspector Tarconi, because Tarconi wasn’t written into “Refueled.” Instead, Frank Martin must forever contend with his father’s constant criticism. Frank, Senior (Ray Stevenson of “Punisher—War Zone”) is a former British Intelligence agent who has been put out to pasture and doesn’t savor the prospect of listening to his arteries hardening. Actually, Frank, Senior, probably wouldn’t have volunteered for some of the shenanigans that he finds himself embroiled in, but he behaves as if his heart were in it. Of course, young Frank, or ‘Junior,’ as his father affectionately refers to him throughout this rugged, PG-13 rated, 96-minute opus, gets tangled up with a quartet of duplicitous dames.
Anna (Loan Chabanol of “Fading Gigolo”) contacts Frank at a restaurant after he refuses to discuss a deal over the phone. No sooner has our hero picked up this brunette in a blond wig the next day in front of a bank than he discovers that she has duped him. Anna promised him two packages, but two more brunettes in blond wigs with bundles of loot join them. As it turns out, these two babes, Gina (Gabriella Wright of “22 Bullets”) and Qiao (newcomer Wenxia Yu) as well as Maria (Tatiana Pajkovic of “Nynne”), constitute a quartet of Musketeers. Anna’s money grubbing mother sold her daughter into prostitution for $500. Like Gina, Maria, and Qiao, Anna has decided to stop taking things lying down. She cooks up an ambitious scheme to wreck revenge on their despicable pimps who are raking in hundreds of millions while the girls wind up doing all the grunt work.
“The Transporter Refueled” features unsavory villains who deal in prostitution and human trafficking. They would rather slit your throats than spit on you, and they eliminate their chief competition on the French Riviera with gunfire during the first quarter hour. Not long afterward, Anna finds herself forced to ply her comely wares on the streets. Fifteen years elapse, and Anna has grown up and dreams up a plan to pay back the dastards who forced her onto her back to make them millions. These girls quote Dumas: “All for one, and one for all.” They take Frank, Senior, hostage to get Frank, Junior to cooperate. Before we’re treated to Anna’s grandiose scheme, we get to watch the new Frank Martin stomp a quintet of hoods who insist that he surrender his black, Audi S8 car to them in a parking garage.
“The Transporter Refueled” is beautifully lensed, but formulaic nonsense. I enjoyed it as much as the three Statham epics and the two-season, Chris Vance “Transporter” television series. Radivoje Bukvic, Yuri Kolokolnikov, and Lenn Kudrjawizki--the actors who play the villains--are cut from the same dangerous cloth as Skrein. These guys make the kind of surefire villains that are appropriate for a gritty, hard-edged crime movie like “The Transporter Refueled.” The close-quarters combat scenes resemble those that Statham had in his trilogy. At one point, the new “Transporter” dukes it out with three adversaries in a room crammed with filing cabinets. The kinetic choreography of this fisticuffs scene is both inspired and ferocious. When our hero isn’t battering his formidable opponents with his fists, he is slamming shut their various appendages in cabinet drawers. These fights bristle with an amusing Jackie Chan vibe. Camille Delamarre doesn’t squander a second and emphasizes the outlandish. A gritty underworld saga of revenge, deceit, and Tarantino-like showdowns, "The Transporter Refueled" propels its narrative like a high-octane blend of white-knuckled adrenaline and fresh harsh faces.