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Transporter 2   C-

20th Century Fox / EuropaCorp

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Cast: Jason Statham, Alessandro Gassman, Amber Valletta, Kate Nauta, Matthew Modine, Jason Flemyng, François Berléand, Keith David.

Review by Rob Vaux

My, those certainly are some big loud noises. Transporter 2 revels in the art of the well-placed boom, which makes its appearance at the end of August perfectly fitting. On top of that, it has the criminally underappreciated Jason Statham, returning to what may be his signature role. The first Transporter posited him as an ex-Special Forces operative willing to drive anything anywhere with no questions asked. Statham displayed an irresistibly quiet menace in the part, his voice all honeyed gravel and his physical presence well-matched by the film's preposterous action scenes. Only the snootiest filmgoer would turn down the prospect of another round with him.

Sadly, Transporter 2 doesn't have much more going for it. An undemanding release date and solid second-tier action star can't make up for its cheap effects, sloppy story, or pathetically misplayed fights. Director Louis Leterrier embraced this style of pulp at the beginning of the summer, with the Jet Li vehicle Unleashed. Here, he caps off the season by shamelessly lowballing even that modest effort.

The plot reads like a watch list of Things Screenwriters Should Never Do. Statham's Frank Martin -- still cruising along in that Audi on loan from James Bond -- is working as a chauffeur for the dysfunctional family of a DEA bigwig (Matthew Modine). Soon enough, the family's precocious son (Hunter Clary) is kidnapped by an evil mercenary (Alessandro Gassman) as part of a plan to spread a lethal super-virus throughout the ranks of well-meaning do-gooders everywhere. Frank, initially a suspect in the crime, immediately goes into ninja ass-kicker mode in an attempt to find the boy and thwart the imminent... um... super-virusing.

Such meager offerings should be just a framework for the action scenes, and indeed there are plenty of sequences where Statham goes to town on an endless variety of faceless mooks. But as he did with Unleashed, Leterrier insists on devoting undue screen time to the whys and wherefores, cutting into the action with ludicrous and unconvincing character development. We simply don't care about Clary's little tyke, his plucky mother (Amber Valletta), or her perennially out-to-lunch husband, all of whom receive far too much attention. Nor do we need to spend so much time with Frank's sidekick (François Berléand), the French cop from the first film who shows up here to provide some meaningless plot exposition in incomprehensible near-English.

But what of the big loud noises? Certainly, one can endure the ridiculous talking parts if the action is cranked up to a suitable decibel. But here too, we're left wanting. The fights are well-designed -- featuring the creative use of household objects to inflict intense bodily harm -- but they're poorly shot and delivered at a pace that renders them complete gibberish. Shoddy special effects contribute further to the problem, as some admittedly difficult stunt work is cribbed through the use of obvious CGI. The original film had a cartoony, over-the-top feeling that endeared it to many of its fans. Leterrier aims for the same feeling here, but clearly lacks the budget -- and perhaps the skill -- to see it through. What's left is rickety and fake, a sad failure to capitalize on some potentially enjoyable ideas.

Balanced against all of this is Statham, who deserves much better and whose laconic performance is never less than supercool. While Gassman's by-the-numbers villain is scant match for him, he finds a better opponent in Kate Nauta's skankbunny assassin, whose thunderous vamping delivers a psychotic energy that the rest of the film could really use. Pity that her big showdown with Statham is such a hollow anticlimax. Unfortunately, that's par for the course with Transporter 2: it's so busy trying to bolster its liabilities that it can't properly develop its assets. There's a solid B-movie character here, with an adequate foil and a lot of great-looking cars to drive around in. You could jettison everything else, leaving it lean and efficient like all Dog Day flicks should be. But too much of its precariously short running time is squandered on half-baked crap. If you want to blow things up, then blow them up right; Transporter 2 can't even make that simplest of equations do what it should.

Review published 09.01.2005.

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