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There are some movies that make it on raw intensity of plot. Others rely on character development and interaction, setting, sex appeal, shock value, and all kinds of other crap. Still others just reek of style. This one veritably oozes style, but carries its own weight in the other criteria. When you think of movies having Style, you may think of something like THE BIG HIT. That one had tons of Style, but lacked anything else that would really carry the film. That most definitely is not the case with this movie.
When THE TRANSPORTER came out on DVD back in 2002, I had never heard of it. It had Jason Statham, though, and I've really enjoyed watching him in the last few years. He'd been good in LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH, so I figured I should rent it. One viewing later, I bought it.
The basics of the movie are time-tested to work in the basic sense. The main character (Statham as Frank Martin) is an anti-hero. He's a former soldier who now makes a living simply transporting things. Any things, as it turns out. He's incredibly cold, which really works for the role and the movie. He meticulously plans out each job according to his own set of requirements and conducts business according to a relatively simple set of rules. As long as these rules are followed, he'll do business:
RULE ONE: Never change the deal.
Naturally, rules get broken (or there wouldn't be a movie). When Martin hears the package in the trunk of his BMW begging to be let out to pee, he does. Lo and behold, it's a really hot Chinese gal (Qi Shu)! With a human face put on the package, the rest of his job gets harder.
His employer figures out that Martin broke Rule Number Three and tries to blow Mr. Martin up. That's where all of the fun begins.
What really makes this movie is the sense of style. It's not any one thing that I can put my finger on, but a combination of factors that really work well. For one, there's Jason Statham. As an athlete-turned-actor, he didn't bring any of the crappy baggage to the role that someone like Tom Cruise or Ahhnuld (or Brian Bosworth, for that matter) would have. Instead, he's believable as a guy trying really hard not to have a conscience. Another welcome bit of style is the fact that Statham did most of his own stunts for the film, including the martial arts and driving sequences. The way that his character remains image-conscious throughout all that is thrown at him blends well with the music and the pattern of the action (many thanks to Cantonese War God Corey Yuen!).
I dunno. Like I said, it's palpable but hard to pinpoint.
The action is dynamic. There's a car chase early in the film that sets the somewhat larger-than-life tone and also lets that first bit of Style drip out. There's a scene in which one man, unarmed and completely pissed off, storms the house full of men who just tried to blow him up. The defining action scene, though, is one that took turns I didn't think ANYONE would take. Imagine a fight contained in a bus that is parked in a garage, with one man against 12. The fight spills out into the garage. Seeing that bad guy reinforcements have arrived, our protagonist proceeds to kick over three vats of oil onto the floor and roll in the oil. Following that is the messiest, slimiest, slipperiest fight scene ever filmed. Incidentally, the DVD has an extended version of the fight that just should not be missed. One other thing about the action in this film that sets it apart is that it's not all wire-flying nonsense. They could have gone that route (especially with Yuen at the helm), but they didn't and that somehow made it more impressive.
Oh, yeah. This next bit is a little disgusting, but noteworthy. This is the only movie I've ever seen in which a guy gets knocked into the water with a dead guy but manages to stay underwater by forcing the remaining air out of THE DEAD GUY'S LUNGS AND BREATHING MOUTH TO MOUTH. Ummm, yeah.
Matt Schulze as the Bad Guy (Wall Street) does a really catchy job. You may remember him as the lardass gearhead who gets into fights with Paul Walker in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, or from his roles in Blades I and II. He dropped 40 pounds for this role and looks like a completely different man. He's slicker than whale shit, mean as hell and makes a really notable villain. (Based on his performance in this, I rented his later film TORQUE. Bad idea.)
The women will like the film for different reasons, the most common being Mr. Statham. He's in wicked shape and moves like an athlete, unlike other actors who picked up the martial arts to get the role. Wesley Snipes, for example, can't move like this. He runs around shirtless a lot, so the ladies will get some eye candy. There's also a passably complex love interest (nicknamed The Package) and all of the complications that come with that.
For the men, we've already covered the intense action scenes. There are also some beautiful cars, including a one-of-a-kind BMW full-sized sedan with a V12 that just makes me greedy. Qi Shu is stunning as a female lead, though she takes a while to grow on you. We get some serious ass-kicking, car chases, hot women, explosions, and a lovely European Riviera setting. Sweet.
For action flicks, this has turned into one of my favorites. It's one of the movies that I keep in reserve for those times that I want to watch something but have no idea what. I would recommend it to anyone who can catch the DVD, and would suggest buying it if you enjoy it. It's complex enough to entertain those who require more than action from a movie, but has enough quality action to keep the action buff really happy.
Main drawback: Statham only speaks in Metric, so get used to it.
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