The Transporter (2002)

*. The Transporter had two directors, Corey Yuen (a Hong Kong action director) and, credited as artistic director, Louis Leterrier. Behind these names, however, it’s also easy to see the hand of writer-producer Luc Besson.
*. I’m not sure how comfortable any of these people were working in English at the time, which may help explain why the script is so laugh-out-loud bad. Or maybe it’s because the whole project was inspired by a series of advertisements (or “branded content”) produced by BMW called The Hire starring Clive Owen in the title role. Does this movie look like a car commercial? Well . . .
*. It’s hard to overstate just how mailed-in the script feels. You know Frank (Statham) and Lai (Qi Shu) are going to hop into bed, so when she forces the issue you get one of those laugh-out-loud moments I mentioned. Their coupling is simply what such a story as this demands. You knew it was coming from the moment they locked eyes. Add to that a plot that’s flimsy even by the standards of an action film, or car commercial. The shipping container isn’t even a decent MacGuffin. And what’s the story about why Lai needs to be transported around anyway? What does her dad want to do with her anyway?
*. Generic tripe like this calls for some star power to bail it out, and here the producers got lucky by glomming on to Jason Statham, who had just appeared in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (his film debut) and Snatch. In The Transporter he launched as an official action star. Along with Dwayne Johnson and . . . Vin Diesel? other names don’t suggest themselves . . . he was one of the heirs of the ’80s icons he would later show up alongside in The Expendables franchise.
*. I like Statham, and he capably carries this movie. It’s not very special in any other way. The opening car chase struck me as very dull. Most of the rest of the action stuff was edited all to hell so I couldn’t even judge whether the stunt work was any good. There wasn’t anything original about any of it, with the possible exception of the oil fight in the garage, which I’ll admit was neat. Otherwise it’s quite predictable, and disappointing. Matt Schulze does well enough as the heavy to deserve a better death than simply to be thrown out of the cab of a truck. In the original French version he was at least crushed by the truck’s wheels, a better (though still not very interesting) exit that was oddly cut from the American release.
*. So, not a keeper. But it would go on to spawn a pair of sequels and a reboot (The Transporter: Refueled), the latter coming as Statham himself, no longer young, was replaced by a new generation of action star. In the meantime, Transporter 2 and 3 would look to improve on the original. All they needed was some more comfort with the star, some slicker action, and a slightly (if ever so slightly) less stupid script. Not a problem. Or at least so one would have thought.

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