by Mel Valentin
Frank Martin is back and heís black. Wait, wrong film (and old joke). Frank Martin (Jason Statham), an ex-Special Forces type turned amoral driver-for-hire turned action-hero with a conscience, is back in the cleverly titled "The Transporter 2" (sans distinguishing subtitle), thanks to the box office returns (and DVD rentals) of its predecessor. Fans of "The Transporterís" outrageous, gravity- and logic-defying car stunts and giddily kinetic, bone-crunching (if still "PG-13" rated) fight scenes will get more of the same in "The Transporter 2," thanks to producer, co-screenwriter and sometime director, Luc Besson ("The Professional," "The Fifth Element"), and the return of Corey Yuen ("Kiss of the Dragon," "The One," "X-Men," "Lethal Weapon 4") as martial arts choreographer.This time out, fearless, taciturn, Frank has moved stateside, plying his ambiguous trade in sunny, colorful Miami (instead of the sunny, colorful French Riviera), driving a car for Jack Billings (Hunter Clary), the preadolescent son of the nationís top drug czar, the senior Billings (Matthew Modine). Frank, temporarily on assignment finds himself drawn into a protective role for the wide-eyed Jack. Jackís mother, Audrey (Amber Valletta), estranged from her ever-absent husband, finds herself drawn to the reserved, enigmatic Frank. In one of the films better scenes, Frank dispatches several thugs and a high schooler nervously holding a gun on Frank, moments before he sets out to pick up Jack at his elementary school.
"Jason Statham: an action hero for the not-so-new millennium."
The potential romantic subplot soon gives way to the main plotline, a comic-book, pulpy version of Tony Scottís Man on Fire, except without Denzel Washington to add the necessary gravitas to the proceedings. Here, a routine doctorís visit goes awry, with Frank forced to protect his young charge from Lola (model-turned actress Katie Nauta, wan, too thin, and badly in need of drama classes), a double-gun wielding blonde psychopath in the employ of the ultra-tanned, ultra-toned, but inevitably standard issue, cartoonish villain, Gianni (Alessandro Gassman), an amoral mercenary with an eye toward a multimillion dollar payday. Frank loses Jack, the FBI is called in, led by Special Agent Stappleton (Keith David, sadly underused) and The Transporter 2 temporarily slips into the ďdouble-chaseĒ formula, with Frank tracking the villain and his henchmen, and the police in pursuit (Frank is implicated against his will in the crime that sets the plot in motion).
The Transporter 2's storyline may be derivative (and uninspired), but rather than follow Man on Fire through to its violent denouement, it switches gears in mid-film, slipping into James Bond territory, with the accented villain in control of a super secret weapon of mass destruction (which comes in easy to distinguish green and purple varieties). Only Frank and his physical prowess (and letís not forget his wit) standing between a nefarious, if dubious conspiracy (what, if anything, would result from the villainís dastardly plan is left unresolved, probably because it wouldnít bear close scrutiny), and well, the all-important lives of a high-ranking government bureaucrat and his family. With the plot shift, the action scenes follow in rapid, numbing succession, complete with car chases, hand-to-farm implement combat (with Frank badly outnumbered, but nonetheless winning), running gun battles (Frank, however, prefers his hands and his feet to guns), and the promised confrontation between Frank and Lola, and at the climax, Frank versus Gianni in a steel cage deathmatch (Ok, not really).
While audiences arenít likely to be disappointed with Stathamís action scenes (most of which Statham performed himself) or in the fight choreography by Corey Yuen, they are likely to be disappointed by all set up, minor payoffs involving Lola and Gianni. Presumably, Katie Nautaís inadequacies dictated a brief fight scene (the director, Louis Leterrier attempts to alleviate this problem through frenetic cutting). Besson may have badly underestimated the budget necessary for the final scene between Frank and Gianni. There, as in one or two other action scenes, the CGI becomes so glaringly obvious as to become laughable (not exactly what Besson or his co-producers intended). More importantly, in a formulaic action film, audiences expect a rough mano-a-mano between hero and villain at the climax (with reversals for the hero and sneering by the villain). Here, with Gianni shown in an early scene practicing kendo (Japanese sword-fighting) with his bodyguards (and brutally beating them), audiences are more than primed for a bloody (for a "PG-13" rated film, that is) mano-a-mano.Think again.Then again, those of us who think of "The Transporter" flicks as 'guilty pleasures' can look forward to the inevitable sequel, "The Transporter 3." Maybe next time, Besson and his collaborators will grace the sequel with a subtitle that'll make it easy (or easier) to distinguishing the various entries in the franchise (presuming it becomes a franchise, that is). Hereís a hint, offered free of charge: use city names in the subtitle (thus "The Transporter 2" becomes "The Transporter 2: Miami"). It might, just might sound like a videogame title to some, but it's unlikely anyone would object (least of all the intended demographic for "The Transporter" films). Before Besson embarks on his screenplay for the next sequel, someone, somewhere should also make him aware that Jamaican stereotypes, besides being offensive, are better left where they belong, in our (recently) unenlightened past.
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originally posted: 09/02/05 12:37:27