The Transporter Review
Those who are old enough will remember those Top Of The Pops albums that came out in the late-seventies and early-eighties. Each one featured lovely ladies wearing very little on the front cover as well as containing all the big hits of the day over two sides of vinyl. They also featured the legend on the reverse side of the cardboard sleeve, "Not performed by the original artists", which meant that instead of hearing The Pretenders' version of Brass In Pocket, you got a version of the song performed by a bunch of session musicians sung by someone who was remarkable for not sounding like Chrissie Hynde.
So, to The Transporter - like a bunch of session actors in a movie that mixes Hong Kong, Hollywood and the Cote d'Azur, it sounds authentic, looks authentic but you can't help wondering what this bald Brit is doing where there ought to be Jet Li.
The Transporter stars Jason Statham as Frank Martin, once of the British Special Forces but now working as a transporter for the delivery of packages and people in the south of France. In this profession, he lives by three rules - never change the deal, never use names and never look inside the package. As the film opens, Martin is acting as the getaway driver following the robbery of an investment bank, hired to bring the gang to a location far from the scene of the crime.
Martin's next job is the delivery of a holdall, placed by persons unknown into the boot of his car. After getting a flat tyre on a mountain road, he looks inside the boot only to find the contents of the bag squirming. Breaking his own rule, Martin looks inside the package only to find a beautiful young Asian woman inside, Lai (Shu Qi), who is bound and gagged. Despite having knowingly broken his third rule, Martin continues with the job but on delivery of this one package to his client, known as Wall Street (Matt Schulze), and accepts another, which explodes whilst still in his car as Martin picks up a drink at a petrol station, he returns to his client's house to settle up in his own style...
Despite its apparent similarities to The Driver, The Transporter exudes little of the sleek, cool efficiency that marked Walter Hill's pared-down 1978 work. Despite having the opportunity to strip out unnecessary action and examine Frank Martin's activities from a philosophical point of view, producer Luc Besson decided instead to pump up the script with hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, tricksy driving and humour. When one thinks of Luc Besson, films such as Subway and The Big Blue may come to mind but much closer to The Transporter are Leon and Nikita, fast-moving action movies that imitate US and Hong Kong style and are set somewhere in France.
What looks to be the obvious problem with The Transporter is the use of Jason Statham in the title role, coming off the back of a couple of Guy Ritchie films - Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Undoubtedly, The Transporter is Statham's shot at becoming a Hollywood action star but there is little sense that Hollywood is appreciative of the fact, giving him a script that Steven Seagal may once have rested on his ever-increasing waistline to peruse. Admittedly, Statham is an odd choice for this type of role, having played only a minor role in both his earlier films - Lock, Stock... was held together by Nick Moran, Vinny Jones and Steven Mackintosh whilst Snatch, despite offering Statham a larger role, was driven by Brad Pitt, Vinny Jones once again, Dennis Farina and Benicio del Toro. Truthfully, Statham seemed like the one least likely to succeed, with the possible exception of Stephen Graham as his sidekick in Snatch, but despite his boxer's looks, shaved head and obviously British accent, Besson clearly saw something to persuade him to give the actor a chance and employed an action director, in the shape of Cory Yuen, capable of showcasing Statham's abilities.
So, with any prejudices out in the open, is The Transporter any good? Actually, it's a surprise to find that it isn't bad at all. Of course, it's utter nonsense but Statham looks the part having clearly put in the hours at the gym both to get in shape as well as to be able to carry off the martial arts moves convincingly. Whilst the best sequence of all is his attack on Wall Street's mansion that opens with a view of Statham through a security lens and launching a flying kick at the front door that knocks it off its hinges as he busts in and starts taking out armed goons, there are a fair number of fight scenes that are almost as good, including a fist fight at a bus station followed by one in a garage with an oil-covered floor. Then again, there's a cracking car chase at the start of the movie with Statham escaping from the cops in a BMW 735i through the streets of Cannes, which, although not quite of the standard set by John Frankenheimer's sensational sprint through Paris in Ronin with a Peugeot 405 and a BMW M5, is great stuff nonetheless. Finally, the film is shot through with a sense of humour that demonstrates that Besson is all too aware of the ridiculous nature of the film he has produced and Statham plays along with a straight face and a suitably droll delivery.
The Transporter is, however, let down badly by an ending that is such a steal from Licence To Kill that the Broccoli's really ought to have contacted their copyright protection department by now, not to mention a lift from Raiders Of The Lost Ark that is conspicuous by being one of the more distinctive moments from Spielberg's film, which is cued in so bluntly that the itchy-fingered litigation lawyers at Lucasfilm must have been prepping for Episode III if they missed this one.
Other than Statham, the actors equip themselves well with Shu Qi playing off Statham well if not really demonstrating any real chemistry between them, although what with this being a man's movie and all, there is a better relationship established between Statham and François Berléand's laconic French cop. Schulze and Ric Young, playing Wall Street and Lai's father, respectively, fairly chew up the scenery in a most amusing manner in their roles as the bad guys and, finally, the hundreds of stuntmen, variously listed as Thug 1, Giant Thug and Little Thug in the credits, walk into Statham's extended fists as well as the goons do in any other martial arts movie.
The Transporter has been anamorphically transferred with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and looks superb with an exceptionally crisp image and a flawless reproduction of the Mediterranean colours that dominate the film.
However, The Transporter is let down by direction that, despite the use of tricky camera shots, is a little flat with more than a few scenes reminiscent of early-90's late-night/early-morning ITV show Eurocops. One suspects that this mix of direction that is both ostentatious and lifeless, often in consecutive scenes, is as a result of using Louis Leterrier and Cory Yuen as directors of the main story and the action sequences, respectively.
As with the care taken over the transfer of the picture, the soundtrack is a great transfer of the original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The action is directed around the speakers with good use of the subwoofer to really bring a immediacy to the sound effects that would otherwise have been absent. Admittedly, these effects can be a little over-expressive at times - The Transporter is all too clearly from the school of audio effects that says punches must sound like sides of beef colliding into one another but there's no mistaking the visceral impact it has.
However, the film is let down badly by a score that alternates between chugging rock and dippy synthesisers with only the rare use of contemporary hip-hop/rock to enliven it. This culminates in there being almost twenty-minutes towards the end that have been scored with exactly the same bit of monotonously strummed guitar that sounds as though it was recorded on a 4-Track with a Boss Distortion pedal, a fake Les Paul and an Alesis SR-16 drum machine - a minute would be difficult to endure at the best of times, but was it necessary for this to go on for so long?
The Transporter has been shipped with a fair number of extras including the important audio commentary:
Audio Commentary: Star of The Transporter, Jason Statham, and producer Steven Chasman contribute a commentary that mixes facts on the film's production with trivia and a few memories from the shoot. Unfortunately, Statham is not the most fascinating of hosts but Chasman is a lively and interesting commentator on the movie and tries to avoid simply describing the onscreen action. This feature commentary is subtitled in English.
Making-Of Feature (12m05s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a short bit of fluff featuring interviews with the main cast that allows them to say what a great experience this was and how much they loved working with one another. As a result, there is very little of interest and certainly nothing that adds to the main feature. The feature is presented with English subtitles throughout.
Extended Fight Scenes: There are three such scenes included here, each one presented in 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen with time and date stamps and other information presented both above and below the picture. Unlike the main feature, each extended scene is presented in 2.0 Stereo but in the first example, the soundtrack music used is different to that in the completed version:
- Wall Street's House (3m51s)
- Container Fight (3m50s)
- Bus Station/Oil Fight (7m32s)
Jason Statham and Steven Chasman provide an optional commentary for each extended scene with each one being an acknowledgement of the abilities of the stuntmen on the film with Statham occasionally reduced to describing the onscreen action for the want of something to say. These commentaries are also subtitled in English.
On the first deleted scene, that at Wall Street's house after the double-cross, Cory Yuen also provides a commentary although he was recorded at a separate time and place from Statham and Chasman.
Well, it's ludicrous, of course. I mean, just in case there's any misunderstanding, The Transporter is utterly ridiculous but yet...it's one of the few action movies that had me laughing aloud at just how knowingly outrageous it is. The car chase alone is exciting in such a way that one only sees on Rockstar's GTA: Vice City these days but one or two of the fight scenes are its equal.
However, let's qualify these statements - this is not a film that is the equal of the best of Hollywood's or Japan's action movies. Instead, think of the output of Golan and Globus' Cannon Films in the mid-eighties and you'll get some idea of where The Transporter lies in being big, dumb, noisy entertainment but unlike Bruckheimer's efforts at the same, this is short, snappy and direct. The problem is that it's unlikely to be worth your money. Whilst I can guarantee you'll watch it once, laugh like a drain and forget about it, he or she who makes a regular trip back to watch it really ought to ask themselves if they think films have gotten any better since the age of American Ninja, Delta Force and Invasion U.S.A.