By Marty Mulrooney
The Transporter Refuelled is an action thriller directed by Camille Delamarre and produced by Luc Besson (who also co-wrote the script). The fourth film in the Transporter franchise, it’s the first to see Jason Statham absent as former special-operations mercenary Frank Martin, replaced for this latest outing by relatively unknown actor Ed Skrein (he played Daario Naharis in the third season of Game of Thrones). The plot revolves around human trafficking this time round, but the series has always been best known for its brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, driving sequences… and Jason Statham. So with ‘the Stath’ out of the picture, can the transporter still deliver?
The Transporter Refuelled has an identity crisis from the outset – it doesn’t know whether it’s supposed to be a prequel, a sequel or a reboot. It certainly doesn’t feel like a direct continuation, with Frank Martin last seen retired and fishing with his new lover Valentina and best friend Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand). Both are notably absent but the latter, who provided brief moments of comic relief throughout the first three films without ever overstaying his welcome (and had genuinely enjoyable onscreen chemistry with Jason Statham), is sadly missed here. In his place is Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson), who is likeable enough but manages to get himself kidnapped twice despite strong hints that he is actually a recently retired spy rather than an Evian water salesman.
The plot is paper-thin, which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker with this type of film, but is also padded out with bland characters and dull action. The story takes place in Monaco and revolves around Anna (Loan Chabanol), a prostitute looking to exact revenge on her sadistic employer, an infamous Russian trafficker. She teams up with three other prostitutes, who all dress the same and wear identical wigs so they immediately become plot devices rather than people. Subtle-as-a-brick references to Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers are made throughout, but in reality Anna’s ‘plan’ is pretty terrible and it’s hard to feel sorry for her and her friends when they rope Frank and Frank Sr. into helping them against their will. Then again, one of the prostitutes gets shot at one point, nearly dies, then has a threesome with Frank Sr., so it all works out in the end…
The characteristics of the transporter himself, much like his rules, never change. Frank Martin is still a black suit-and-tie-wearing professional freelance courier driver for hire (try saying that three times in a row), a deadly martial artist (although he seems to have substantially slowed down) and an incredible getaway driver (although it’s hard to tell sometimes with all the quick camera cuts). He’s still sitting outside a bank in his Audi clock-watching, ready to drive away if the agreed upon time expires. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but unless the imitation is done equally as well or with a new lick of paint at the very least – what the hell do ‘they’ know?
It isn’t that Ed Skrein is particularly bad. However, he is seriously miscast. Statham isn’t known for his acting chops (somewhat unfairly), although in the right role it’s arguable he can sing well enough and hold a decent tune until the final credits roll (let’s just not push the 90-minute mark). What he does have is star quality. Even when he was a relative unknown like Skrein, running around London trying to avoid Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, something about him stood out.
He delivers silly dialogue with a masculine growl that would make most actors sound stupid and transforms it into something much more memorable than it has any right to be. He is also an accomplished martial artist with an impressive physique, allowing him to do a lot of his own fight scenes and stunts. The role of the transporter was tailor-made for him by Luc Besson. Skrein just about fits the suit despite filling it out far less convincingly, but simply giving him Statham’s lines verbatim was a big mistake.
As a result, the character always feels like a pale imitation and this is a sentiment that applies to the film as a whole. The fighting and driving scenes are edited to within an inch of their lives (presumably because Skrein can’t actually do most of what is shown) and without any emotional investment to fall back on, the whole 96-minute experience is forgotten as soon as the final credits roll. The original Transporter films were never masterpieces of cinema, but they had a certain je ne sais quoi which made them more memorable than the average action film.
It turns out that a high-octane action franchise needs to be fuelled by a high-octane star and with Skrein replacing Statham, the series is out of gas. Fans will be disappointed and it’s doubtful many new ones will be born. Frank Martin’s car may have received an upgrade, but everything else is a serious downgrade and it shows. Even the theme tune has been reduced to a series of annoyingly familiar notes that never quite fall into place.
At one point, Frank Martin swaps out of his trademark black Audi and gets into an otherwise identical dull grey model, before blowing it up. First of all, this is totally out of character. Frank Martin loves his car. Second of all, isn’t that the exact point of his cool rotating licence plates – that he can always keep the same vehicle? Finally, it shows that his car has become just another disposable gimmick. Sadly, that’s the perfect description for The Transporter Refuelled – by no means truly terrible but thoroughly average nonetheless, showing now in an empty cinema near you.
6 OUT OF 10
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