Our review of The Transporter: Special Delivery Edition, published August 29th, 2005, is also available.
Rules are made to be broken.
The international all-star production team that last brought you Kiss of the Dragon—French writer-producer Luc Besson, Americans co-writer Robert Mark Kamen and co-producer Steve Chasman, and Hong Kong action choreographer Corey Yuen—reconvene for another steaming plate of high kicks, hot lead, and haute couture in the south of France.
Let the mayhem commence.
Facts of the Case
Frank Martin (Jason Statham, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) is known to the European underworld only as "the Transporter"—the man who will transport anything, anywhere, no questions asked, for a slightly-north-of-nominal fee. Frank is an obsessive-compulsive ex-Special Ops martial arts and firearms ace who's a stickler for his three simple rules of engagement:
Rule Number One: Never change the deal.
As Frank tells would-be clients, Transportation is a precise business. He plots out with specificity every detail of every job—weight, size, speed, time, every milliliter of gasoline—making careful notes in his little black book. His jet-black BMW 735 is tricked out like the latest release from Q Division, with high-performance shock absorbers and license plates that change at the touch of a button. Frank can launch the sucker off a crowded overpass from a standing start and land it on a moving car carrier without scratching the paint, soiling the leather interior, or breaking a sweat.
One day Frank takes a job that begins like most of his other runs: one package, one-half by one-and-one-half meters, fifty kilograms, traveling 250 kilometers. But when Frank sees the package wriggle, he violates Rule Number Three and takes a peek inside. The wriggle turns out to be a spunky Asian girl (Taiwanese star Qi Shu) on the run from a slave-smuggling cartel. All too quickly—and violently—Frank remembers why the rules exist in the first place.
The Transporter shares a number of elements in common with the last collaboration from Besson and Associates. Like Kiss of the Dragon, this film teams a cross-cultural odd couple, consisting of a hotshot martial artist and a not-so-innocent young woman, against a barrage of gangster types. This time the hotshot, not the woman, is played by an underrated Western actor (Jason Statham standing in for Bridget Fonda) and the woman is an Easterner struggling with the language (Qi Shu standing in for Jet Li), but otherwise you'll recognize the outline. There's a lot of goulash to mix here—urban American music, European style and setting, Hong Kong sensibility. Mostly it hangs together. Mostly.
The Transporter succeeds about as well as the earlier effort. It may even be a mite better, because the superior actor is the primary lead here, and his character is more interestingly drawn. Statham—toned up with impressive results from what we've seen of him in other films—is actually little short of phenomenal here, all razor-sharp skills and implacable cool. Frank's innovative talent for improvising weaponry from the available materiel gives him the flavor of a sort of kung fu MacGyver with the automotive skills of Bo "The Bandit" Darville. Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's onionskin script rarely gives Statham's enigmatic Transporter anything compelling to say, which is just as well because Statham never does settle into a single accent—he flits from his natural Brit inflections to a flat pseudo-American speech pattern mixed with something that sounds vaguely Aussie/Kiwi. But then, this is not the sort of film to which one comes looking for scintillating dialogue or deep dramatic insights. We want to see bullets blazing, fists and feet flying, tires screeching, and stuff exploding—plausibility of plot and dialect be hanged. All that, The Transporter delivers in spades.
Corey Yuen partners with Besson protégé Louis Leterrier in a unique dual-directorial parlay, with Yuen as main director responsible mainly for the action sequences, and Leterrier stepping behind the camera for the more expository scenes. The arrangement works—the quieter portions and the slam-bang are all of a piece, with no palpable stylistic clash between them. (One suspects that Besson actually points the lens throughout the film far more than anyone is confessing.) The kinetic fight scenes are artfully programmed and deftly executed. In fact, the three main conflicts were edited down significantly for length and to preserve the coveted PG-13 rating, but the leftovers from the cutting room floor wind up as extras on the DVD for your adrenaline-junkie enjoyment. Yuen drops the hammer right from the opening bell and keeps the gasoline flowing. Action aficionados should have nary a complaint with the quality of the hardball played here. Cinematographer Pierre Morel's shot selection and positioning are often breathtaking, and while Nicolas Trembasiewicz's edit-by-Cuisinart approach seems overdone in spots, the film rockets along and even feels short at a brisk 92 minutes.
The screenplay keeps the focus so tightly on Statham's character that the rest of the cast is scarcely more than an afterthought. Qi Shu is, sadly, hampered by her wrestling with the dialogue in her first English-language production (it's agonizingly obvious she's reciting her lines phonetically), though she's a veteran of more than 40 features in the Far East. Still, she possesses a luminous quality that lights up the screen, and with some additional coaching could be a genuine presence in Western pictures. French character actor François Berléand contributes some gentle humor as the local police inspector who spouts Solomonic aphorisms ("A past like yours, you never leave behind") and putters about in Frank's business like a Gallic Columbo with a taste for coffee and madeleines. Neither of the villains, played by familiar faces Matt Schulze (forty pounds lighter here than in The Fast and the Furious and the Blade films) and Ric Young (from Seven Years in Tibet and The Corruptor, as well as Kiss of the Dragon), make much of an impression beyond necessities of the plot.
What shortcomings The Transporter has—and it has its share—can be traced back to the hit-and-miss script. Mostly, the movie overcomes these weaknesses. The romance between Frank and his accidental tourist feels forced and hollow, but then, so do most romances in flicks like this. The wrap-up is rushed and anti-climactic, but by the time it arrives the movie has bought sufficient goodwill with its dazzling action sequences that I was prepared to excuse it. All in all, the movie offers a snootful of percussive, hell-for-leather, in-your-face goofy fun that didn't leave me feeling stupid for watching it. That's worth something.
Fox delivers a pair of knockout transfers on this two-sided DVD. The anamorphic rendition is gorgeous, with brilliant, eye-popping color and crystal clarity. Several scenes involving fiery explosions burst off the screen in rich, amazingly vivid oranges, reds, and yellows with no hint of bleed or breakup. Digital defects were practically nonexistent to my view. A random sampling of the hack-and-scan version assured me that even the black-bar-phobic inbreeders at the local Blockbuster will enjoy a visually pleasing—if artistically bankrupt—experience.
The audio presentation is very whit as outstanding. Jazz maven Stanley Clarke turns in an incredibly funky score that chugs, throbs, and just flat-out cooks throughout the film, and the soundtrack does it poetic justice. The bass lines in the hip-hop-tinged music and at the bottom end of the audio effects spectrum will rattle the heirlooms in your china hutch with minimal effort. Surrounds are as active as anything I've heard in months. Dialogue is solidly focused and well presented—helpful given the ever-changing variety of accents in use.
The showpiece among the selection of supplements included by the Fox folks is a triad of extended fight sequences, totaling about 15 minutes in all. These scenes, located on the widescreen side of the disc, can be viewed with or without audio commentary by Jason Statham, producer Steve Chasman, and—via interpreter—director Corey Yuen. The footage is presented in widescreen format with the original timecoding at top and bottom. The quality is straight-from-the-canister crude, but watchable. Despite preemptive warnings that this material is unrated and not suited for the younger set, there's nothing terribly gruesome or graphic here.
Statham and Chasman reappear for a full-length audio commentary that can be engaged with either version of the feature film. It's neither the liveliest nor the most insightful track you'll find, and there are several annoyingly lengthy gaps in the chatfest when our two companions either get wrapped up in watching the picture or run out of interesting things to say. I was disappointed at the lack of depth of most of the remarks Statham and Chasman did summon up.
The de rigeur "Making-Of" featurette rates as slightly above average in production quality, merely average in content. Corey Yuen's interview segments are poorly dubbed, but there's enough variety from the other participants to make this worth a watch. There's not much nitty-gritty backstage info here that you won't pick up from the commentary track, but it's put together nicely and is about the right length for this sort of thing at twelve minutes. Both the featurette and the film's widescreen theatrical trailer appear on the pan-and-scan side of the platter. (I found the trailer needlessly revelatory of key plot points, as well as insulting to the director: "From the maker of The Professional and La Femme Nikita…" Hey, how about a little love for Corey Yuen, people?)
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I almost lost hope when I found a typo in the opening credits: the production company is identified as "Current Entertainement" (sic). Fortunately, I kept watching.
If coherence and cogency you seek, you've probably picked up the wrong DVD. But you're in the mood for a testosterone-to-the-wall headbanger with slick martial arts sequences (including one with extra oil) and nonstop action, The Transporter's ready to take you for a joyride.
Beam me up, Statham.
The Judge finds Jason Statham and Qi Shu guilty of spotty accent and dialogue implementation, and writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen guilty of yanking the screenplay out of the microwave a minute before the bell rang, indicating complete doneness. The Transporter is released on bail, so long as he promises not to leave the jurisdiction. We're adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary Featuring Actor Jason Statham and Producer Steven Chasman
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