The Transporter
review by Gregory Avery, 11 October 2002

The Transporter is the first action movie I can recall seeing that has a direct reference to Marcel Proust. Out of nowhere.

The Girl (Taiwanese actress Shu Qi) has made breakfast for The Guy (Jason Statham, previously seen in Guy Ritchie's two heist films, Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) which includes coffee and freshly-baked madeleines. Madeleines? Why madeleines? Why not, say, cinnamon buns? Just when you start wondering if this is going where you think it is going to go, in drops the local friendly Police Inspector (François Berleand), who nibbles a madeleine and asks The Guy if he's ever read Remembrance of Things Past. "Fantastic. Memory like a steel trap," says the Inspector of its author.

No doubt the screenwriters, Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, thought they would have a little fun, here, because that's the last time anyone does or mentions anything significant about memory or remembrance. The movie features a kidnapping (whose hostage is The Girl) whose purpose is never explained; there are repeated attempts to blow The Guy to smithereens which are never explained, either. I rather enjoyed the first thirty or forty minutes of the film, though, where The Guy, a highly-disciplined driver who specializes in "transporting" everything from escaping bank robbers to unnamed goods in zippered bags, leads a harrowing chase through the streets, alleys, and, at one point, over a bridge in the French city of Nice. This is a movie where you can tell who the good guys and bad guys are because the bad guys sweat too much and dress badly. Statham's character eludes the authorities and drives a beautifully polished, custom-appointed BMW while wearing a suit and tie and without ever breaking a sweat, even when a gun is pointed at his head and cops are blocking the access ahead.

The Girl, who turns out to be tied up and gagged and then concealed in a zippered bad that The Guy is paid to transport, is ingratiating and clever and looks like she'll be matching The Guy wit for wit -- she's mixed up in some business involving smuggling slave labor into the country sealed in cargo containers. But she ends up being turned into something of a cargo container herself, hefted around by one gun-toting baddie after another as the movie simply accelerates and accelerates the action. Up until the forty-minute point, the already fast-paced action has a near-balletic quality to it in some of its precision -- the director, Corey Yuen, previously worked as a performer on some of the wonderful Hong Kong-made "Fong Sai Yuk" films that starred Jet Li -- and there are some good, audacious ideas mixed up in the mélange that makes up the rest of the picture: a battle in a garage that continues well after motor oil has been spilled all over the floor; a furious contest staged in the cab of a truck that's speeding down a highway. (Statham's character always stops short of doing anything that's outright vicious.) But everything is filmed very close-up and in-your-face (something that's really killing action pictures being made nowadays), and after a while the movie just turns into a blur, indistinguishable from anything else that's currently being slapped on the screen.

Jason Statham looks as smoothed-down and modeled-for-action as Vin Diesel, but he has an ironic detachment that Diesel lacks, and he makes his way through the fight sequences with authoritative skill. It should be noted, though, that Besson and Kamen previously wrote the screenplay for the mind-blowingly awful The Fifth Element, and, here, they give the characters lines such as the one where Shu Qi's character has to say, tearfully, "He was a bastard, but he was still my father." Besson has said that he wants to do French-made films which are Hollywood in style so as to compete with the Hollywood-made action films that have been coming into Europe and monopolizing cinemas there for years. In this movie, it feels like they started out with something but then decided to settle for something much less. The picture even walks away from the action, so to speak, at the end and doesn't even bother to tell us what happens to the characters played by Statham and Shu Qi: both of the performers deserve better.

Directed by:
Corey Yuen

Jason Statham
Shu Qi
Matt Schulze
Ric Young
François Berleand

Written by:
Luc Besson
Robert Mark Kamen

PG-13 Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
inappropriate for 
children under 13.






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