'The Transporter Refueled'
Given that so much of the success of ‘The Transporter’ series lived and died on Jason Statham’s unmistakably Stathamesque performance, you’d think that it would be impossible for the franchise to continue without him. Don’t tell Luc Besson, though, because he’s trying to relaunch the series with a movie that’s certainly better than the last sequel but not exactly the highlight of the franchise. Still, if you like Besson’s particular brand of Eurotrash cartoon action tomfoolery, there’s certainly some fun to be had.
Anyone expecting an explanation for the Statham-sized hole in the movie can immediately forget anything like that happening. No, ‘The Transporter Refueled’ goes about its business as if the previous movies never existed. Ed Skrein (doing his best impression of Statham’s distinct cockney growl) stars as Frank Martin, the professional driver with a particular set of rules. He has a father figure played by Ray Stevenson who was pretty clearly written for Statham as a passing of the torch, but that didn’t happen and no one bothered to write out the character.
The plot: Frank is hired by Anna (Loan Chabanol) to drive her and a few gals to what turns out to be a heist. Soon, the driver who likes to stay out of his customer’s business gets tied up with this group of women who were sold into the sex trade industry as children and now have an elaborate plan to bring down the organization behind it. Plus, daddy gets involved for some intergenerational fun. Cue a bunch of expensive cars doing elaborate stunts through the south of France.
If you share my sweet tooth for Besson’s insane action movie factory, you’ll know that his franchises tend to get lazier and less accomplished with each sequel (e.g. ‘Taken 3’, in which no one could even talk Liam Neeson into running on camera). ‘Transporter 3’ was one of the lowest lows of Besson’s career, a total mess that felt like it was made up as it went along. ‘Refueled’ feels like it was initially written for Statham, but he passed. Then it was rewritten for Statham so that he could have a smaller part setting up a new star, but he passed again, requiring a third quick rewrite to remove Statham entirely. As a result, this ‘Transporter’ script got at least three more drafts than the last one, so it’s actually a far better movie even if it never quite hits the ludicrous heights of the first two entries in the series.
A big reason for the movie’s lower stature in the franchise is of course the glaring lack of Statham. Ed Skrein is a perfectly acceptable monotone action hero, but he’s just no Statham. Even if Jason had played the father it would have helped. This is a Besson action flick without a proper star and that’s a problem. Thankfully, the French action guru’s stunt team remains and they whip up some hysterically over-the-top chase sequences. Watching cars fly around the tight cobblestone roads of the south of France with frequent explosions is amusing, and the wonderfully stupid chase sequence through an airport in the middle of the movie has got to be one of the best action set-pieces of the franchise.
While there’s no true action star at the center of the movie, we do get a full ‘Charlie’s Angels’ style team of Besson’s beloved ass-kicking super models. Sure, those characters are all cartoons, but there’s no denying the fun to be had in watching them get revenge against Besson’s stock villain team of Eastern European sex traffickers. The dumb movie goes about its business in colorfully extreme ways and wraps up just after the 90 minute mark to ensure it never wears out its welcome. There are worse B-movies out there. Besson has even made a bunch of them.
Although Skrein certainly is no Jason Statham, this is definitely a ‘Transporter’ movie, and it’s completely watchable so long as your expectations are as low as they should be for the fourth film that follows a TV spinoff. The fact that it’s been competently put together by Besson’s usual crew (director Camille Delamarre worked his way up through Besson’s movies behind the scenes, just like Olivier Megaton, Pierre Morel and Louis Leterrier before him) actually makes it better than most. The movie has some genuinely thrilling physical action scenes, an amusingly stupid plot, a bunch of pretty cast members, and a lightning sense of pace that almost doesn’t give viewers enough time to realize how stupid everything is (but not quite).
For better or worse, this is a step up from how far the ‘Transporter’ series had fallen. Shame about the lack of Statham, though. That guy is genuinely irreplaceable.