Director Corey Yuen (Jet Li’s The Enforcer) has been cooking up a visual cuisine of Hong Kong action for close to three decades. Now he offers The Transporter, an action buffet seasoned for American tastes. Yuen dishes out a variation of the urban car chase à la The French Connection, serves up his own gymnastic kung fu Occidental style, and shells out a quantity of firepower that would seem absurdly extravagant, even for an epic pyromaniac like producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad Company, Black Hawk Down). Then he shanghais and drops classic Hollywood adventure into the mix. The final product is a cinematic chef’s surprise, some of the international ingredients fusing, but many held together by the thinnest of plots.
The hero here is Jason Statham’s Frank Martin, a strictly professional criminal with a heart of gold. Writer Luc Besson (Wasabi) once successfully reconditioned this cliché in The Professional (1994). And Statham held his own as a leading man in Snatch (2000). But both Statham and Besson were less critically successful last year. Statham fell into two bombs, Ghosts of Mars and the Jet Li vehicle, The One. Besson stumbled into Hong Kong-style action with the failing script of another more equivocally accepted (by critics, at least) Jet Li actioner, Kiss of the Dragon (Yuen choreographed Dragon’s martial arts sequences).
Perhaps the box office success of Kiss of the Dragon mandated the production of The Transporter. If last year’s model entertained you, you might at least enjoy the hyperbolic action set pieces, if not the inferior story, of this knock-off. Former British soldier-turned-crime demimonde driver Frank substitutes for Li’s compromised Hong Kong police officer.
Then there’s Lai (Taiwanese romantic comedy star Qi Shu), a character so weak, silly and eager-to-please that she makes Bridget Fonda’s heroin-addicted whore in Dragon look like a feminist icon. Lai is Frank’s lovely — and persistently annoying — “package” that proves to be his Pandora’s box. When Frank breaks the rules by opening the duffel bag she’s bound in, he somehow sets off both the main and the love plots: an absurd gauntlet of fists, trucks, missiles, bombs — and Lai’s bedroom eyes.
How? Why? Like Frank, The Transporter doesn’t tolerate questions well. They’re on a need-to-know basis — and maybe even Besson didn’t need to know.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.