Should I Watch..? The Transporter
What's the big deal?
The Transporter is an action crime thriller film released in 2002 and was co-directed by French director Louis Leterrier and Hong Kong action choreographer Corey Yuen. The film is the first in a trilogy starring Jason Statham as Frank Martin, a driver working as a mercenary for hire on the south coast of France. Like most French action movies, Luc Besson was heavily involved in the film's production, being both a co-writer and co-producer of the movie. Statham insisted on performing his own stunts, something he continues to do in all his films. Although a modest success at the box office, the film has since spawned a TV series of the same name as well as a poorly received 2015 reboot - The Transporter Refuelled (1) - which replaces Statham with Ed Skrein.
What's it about?
Frank Martin is a highly skilled driver working as a mercenary for hire in the south of France. Acknowledged as the best in the business, Frank will deliver any package anywhere on time and with no questions asked. He has three rules that he strictly abides by - once a deal is completed, it's final, no names and never open the package. Hired to deliver a package to local American gangster Darren "Wall Street" Bettencourt, Frank notices some movement inside the package and soon discovers that he is transporting a kidnapped young Chinese woman called Lai.
Despite his judgement, Frank delivers the package to Wall Street who then double-crosses him by attempting to blow up Frank and his trusty BMW. Determined to put a stop to whatever Wall Street is up to, Frank heads back to his compound with revenge on his mind and the local constabulary, represented by Frank's on-off buddy Inspector Tarconi, are digging ever deeper into Frank's affairs...
Darren "Wall Street" Bettencourt
Louis Leterrier & Corey Yuen
Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Release Date (UK)
17th January, 2003
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
This film probably marks the first time that Statham turned himself into a legitimate action man and the effect is profound, especially if you haven't seen him in this sort of role before. Lean, muscular and blessed with a cheeky glint in his eye, Statham is absurdly good as Frank whose wily antics and use of the environment brings to mind a beefier Jackie Chan. For anyone who has only seen him in Cockney crime caper Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (2) or alongside Melissa McCarthy in Spy (3), it is a sudden and stark contrast.
The film wastes no time throwing you into the action which is as ridiculous as you'd expect but competently executed and shot. The Transporter is nothing like as dark as something like Taken (4), instead bringing us the sort of glamorous sunshine you'd expect to find on the Riveria. The car chases are also very well done, reminding me of Besson's Taxi (5) as well as The Bourne Identity (6) although the latter film was much colder due to the amount of snow. The film's people-smuggling plot is also eerily prescient given the current migration issues affecting many European nations. Perhaps its best trick is to provide enough action to satisfy younger viewers without getting into more adult content like Taken did. Besson knows his audience well and is only too happy to oblige them.
- Watch the trailer above and you'll see a clip of Statham deflecting a missile with a tea tray. Statham insisted that this scene be removed from the film because nobody would ever believe it.
- When Lai leaves the police station, she gets a taxi. It is a white Peugeot 406 - the same car that appeared in the 1998 French movie Taxi which was also written by Luc Besson.
- The car Frank drives is a BMW 750i E38 with a manual six-speed gear box. It is the only example of its type that BMW made - people have converted their cars using the gear box from the 850 CSi E31 but this is extremely rare.
What's not to like?
The Transporter is an enjoyable action film but not an especially memorable one. The action is as cheesy as the dialogue, which also manages to be annoyingly predictable as well. And as good as Statham is in the action scenes (and he is good), his part-time accent left me guessing whether he was supposed to be English or American. He also dominates the picture with his tough-guy routine - Schulze doesn't get enough screen time to feel like a proper baddie while Shu Qi hasn't much to do besides look pretty. But the biggest let-down was Berléand as the police inspector. The nature of his relationship and friendship with Frank was slightly ambiguous and he felt like a wasted opportunity to inject some comedic elements.
For a B-movie, it doesn't do much wrong but the amount of sequels, reboots and spin-offs does make me wonder why there is so much love for The Transporter. It's as good as it needed to be but hardly worth throwing a sickie at work for. It just needed a bit more spit-and-polish to iron out those low-budget cracks that appear like the crude CG bullets flying about the place.
Should I watch it?
It's not as mental as its sequels but The Transporter is an adequate, enjoyable excuse for some low-brow fisticuffs. Statham's transformation from Cockney charmer to furious fighter is the sole reason why anyone would watch this film although fans of a decent action movie might enjoy the film as well. It might not be first-class but at least it delivers the goods.
Great For: BMW drivers, the Statham fan-club, adolescent boys.
Not So Great For: demanding action fans, young children, people who hate BMW drivers.
What else should I watch?
I'm rarely convinced by any reboot of a movie (Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (7) being a rare exception) so forgive me if I don't waffle on about The Transporter Refuelled. Most people paid it no attention. The sequels, on the other hand, are worth a mention. Both Transporter 2 (8) and Transporter 3 (9) are equally bonkers in terms of action and just as light from a narrative perspective, feeling like a more automative version of another of Statham's hard-hitting franchises, the hyperactive Crank (10). However, Crank manages to take this full-throttle approach to action movies and delivers something truly insane whereas the Transporter films feel more restrained by comparison. A lot more restrained, in fact.
Vehicular-based action movies come along every now and again, especially now that The Fast And The Furious (11) has become the juggernaut it is and even roped Statham in for a role. Personally, I enjoyed the remake of Gone In Sixty Seconds (12) with Nicolas Cage in full-on maniac mode and enough gorgeous cars to make me forget its numerous flaws. Motor movies sure have come a long way since Smokey And The Bandit (13).