The Transporter: Special Delivery Edition Review

The Rock better watch his back. There's a new action man in Tinsel Town, and he's going to make it big. Who is this person, I hear you say? Statham. Jason Statham. The British actor has made the most of his career to date, and after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he had his pick of tough-guy roles. Duds like Ghosts of Mars and The One aside, he is slowly making his name known in Hollywood; helped no end by his memorable turn in 2002’s The Transporter - which has just been graced with a sequel. While it didn’t make considerable box office, it has gained a loyal following on video, especially since it was co-written by the famous Luc Besson; who has forged a secondary career as an action scribe. Directed by Hong Kong veteran Corey Yuen (who shares choreography duties with Louis Leterrier), The Transporter manages to rise above other examples in the overflowing genre, thanks to Statham’s lean and mean performance, and some great stunt work. In other words, it’s disposable fun.

The plot concerns ex-soldier Frank Martin (Statham), who has been making a living on the French Riviera as an underworld courier. He's the best at what he does, mainly due to his strict codes of conduct: never change the deal, never use real names, and never look inside the package. However, while doing one job his curiousity gets the better of him, and he looks inside the package; revealing the beautiful Lai (Shu Qui). After breaking all of his own rules, he quickly becomes the target of a vicious human smuggling ring. Cue all manner of silly scenarios, as bad guys are despatched, many bullets are fired, and several explosions erupt to the beats of a techno-soundtrack. Derivative? Hell yes, but I didn’t really care. Yuen’s film is the kind of old-fashioned trash we all crave from time to time.

There are several problems with The Transporter (of the kind which usually bug films of this nature), but a lot of great points too, providing an entertaining trip. Dialogue is, as you'd aspect, terrible, but it doesn't seem to harm the movie as it may others. Aiding Besson in the scripting department, is Robert Mark Kamen, who also collaborated with the French master on Kiss of the Dragon and this years Unleashed. Keeping true to its chop-socky roots, yet revelling in its own European flavour, the screenplay is essentially a pleasure cruise through the clichés and conventions of the martial arts genre. While the script isn't concerned with detailed back story, and a fully realized plot, you have to admire the writers for creating such an intriguing title character. Statham’s Martin is a professional in the literal sense – a fiercely-intelligent, highly-skilled trouble-shooter, who treats his car as he would a wife. He even goes about his business in a sharp suit, and sensible driving gloves. Like Bruce Lee, he’s a machine – providing the perfect excuse for those increasingly outlandish fight scenes.

The action is pumped-up and frenetic, and Yuen has an incredible eye for this type of fare. The films opening sequence is perfect in establishing the tone, with a brilliantly orchestrated car chase, rivalled only by the similar scene in The Bourne Identity. Despite the obvious influences, the stunts are performed effortlessly, and the fight scenes are well-realised. The crew are obviously fans of Jackie Chan, hence the improvisational edge to these skirmishes; such as when Frank is armed with nothing but his sweater, or the funny sequence in which he battles the bad guys with only an oil slick and bike pedals. This is another of the films saving graces, since the sly humour keeps you enthralled, despite its weaknesses.

Despite the excitement that the film throws in your direction, The Transporter's greatest asset, is indeed its star. Statham is very impressive in this kind of role, showing hitherto unseen martial arts prowess. He's athletic and powerful - everything the role requires, really. His obligatory female co-star Shu Qui, does an admirable job, especially considering that this was her English-speaking debut. She sometimes finds the dialogue a little awkward, and lacks conviction, but her performance is pretty good for the genre. The weakest link, is easily Matt Schulze (Blade 2, The Fast and the Furious), who seems to play the same villain in every film he appears in. He is exactly what you'd expect: a tough-looking and grumbling hulk, who isn't developed as much as he could have been.

There's not much else I can say about this cinematic jamboree - at a brisk 94 minutes, it passes the time without ever taxing the brain. Ultimately, The Transporter is an entertaining cocktail of guns, babes, and fight scenes. Everything you want from a Saturday night-in. It doesn't attempt to be more than the sum of its parts, and you have to admire the film for its determination to thrill and rouse. In fact, this is everything that the over-hyped XxX wasn't - engaging, brilliantly put together, and most importantly, satisfying. This is big, dumb fun, and one of 2002's hidden gems. Recommended.

The Disc

Not even the all-powerful Statham could stop the threat of a double-dip!

With The Transporter 2 on the horizon, the bean-counters at Fox clearly thought that a re-issue of Yuen’s film was necessary. It makes perfect marketing-sense, but fans were no doubt hoping for a definitive edition of the flick; with an increase in behind-the-scenes booty. Barely anything has been thrown into the mix, making this worthless for fans with the previous copy. For newbies however, it’s a good introduction into Frank Martin’s world.

So, what’s under the hood?

The Look and Sound

This is the exact same transfer used for the first release, but that’s just dandy, since it still looks excellent. The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) presentation is sharp and full of detail, with deep colours and above-average object delineation. Artefacts are mostly kept at bay, and I didn’t notice any serious grain. The print is in very good condition, as you’d expect from a recent film. Only a few spots of compression bring down the score. Otherwise, The Transporter looks as good as you’d expect.

The audio is great, too. Presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, the movie really comes to life with its aural ass-kickery. The DTS option is new, and might tempt some fans to this edition. It’s certainly a worthwhile track, since it gives the action scenes an added boost; making aggressive use of your sub-woofer. Every punch, kick and bullet ricochet sounds brilliant. Dialogue is also clear (not that it really matters). My only pet-peeve (and this is no fault of the audio), is the music used throughout the film - truly atrocious techno-crap, that adds nothing to the experience. Despite this caveat, The Transporter looks and sounds very good indeed.

Fox also provide 2.0 tracks in French and Spanish, with English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Bonus Material

As I said before, nothing major has been added to this release, which is quite lazy to say the least. The new items amount to two video supplements - a behind-the-scenes documentary, and a sneak-peek of Transporter 2. The latter is pure promotional hogwash, revealing the very reason why this release exists in the first place. The documentary though, which runs just over half an hour, isn’t a total waste of time. It’s actually entertaining, offering some great factoids and plenty of on-set footage. Fans who were interested in how the fight scenes were staged, might get a kick from this.

The rest of the supplements remain the same:

Audio Commentary by Jason Statham and producer Steven Chasman

This is a rather subdued affair, with Statham and Chasman giving the film a quiet, introspective discussion. They offer a fine smattering of facts and titbits, but nothing that will really surprise or amuse you. Statham concentrates a lot on the physical aspects of the shoot, as you’d expect, and offers some thoughts on his strict fitness regime. He even criticises his skills during some moments, but clearly enjoyed the experience. Chasman is more technical, offering his two cents on getting the film made, and the troubles encountered throughout the production. There’s some dead air on this track, but fans will find some worth.

Deleted & Extended Fight Scenes

This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the disc for anyone who appreciated The Transporter’s action sequences. It’s a 15-minute montage of cut footage, with optional commentary by Statham, Chasman and director Corey Yuen. Apparently the scenes were cut to lower the rating to a PG-13, and some of the violence is pleasingly OTT - it’s a shame that Fox couldn’t release an unrated “Director’s Cut” with this footage intact. Still, it’s good to have access to these scenes.

You’ll also find a 12-minute "Making of", which is rendered useless by the new doc; a trailer for The Transporter and the superior Ong Bak, and a storyboard-to-film comparison.

The Bottom Line

Some critics were very harsh on The Transporter. It set-out to be a mindlessly entertaining action film, and certainly achieved in that regard. What it lacks in smarts, it makes up for in kinetic gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. Those who dig the genre, will probably get out a kick out of Statham’s one-man juggernaut. The ridiculously-titled “Special Delivery Edition” isn’t worth a purchase for old fans, but it’s good enough to warrant a purchase from newbies. Give it a spin.

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