Action stars in the Eighties and Nineties tended to get cast based more on muscles than on skills. Van Damme could do the splits and kick people repeatedly in slow motion, Arnie could throw around half-a-dozen armed opponents as if they were ragdolls and dispatch them all with his infinite ammo Uzis, and even Stallone preferred to take his top off and wear a sweat band (rather than just get a haircut) when fighting an Army with an M60 or two. One of the first of their ilk of action superstars who actually appeared do display some kind of mastery of martial arts was, oddly enough, Seagal. He was also one of the first to showcase his moves wearing a suit, which was quite an original concept opposite the biceps of his fellow action stars. Over a decade on and the no-brain action vehicle has all but been relegated to the DTV basement, with Hollywood instead choosing to invest money in training popular mainstream artists to kick ass. After all, why would you watch some silly, nonsensical muscle-bound b-movie when you could easily watch one of the Matrix, Bourne or even Mission Impossible movies and get your kicks seeing the likes of Cruise or Keanu Reeves breaking heads in style? In this respect, The Transporter is a fun return to the heyday of silly kick-ass action movies, although it did also show us a very different side to Jason 'Locks, Stock' Statham - as a martial arts action star.
Frank Martin is basically a driver for hire, who will take on any job - legal or not - so long as the pay is right. He does things his way, has plenty of rules which he refuses to break, and generally comes across as a consummate professional. After completing a mission as getaway driver in an armed robbery, he comes under investigation by the local police inspector, who suspects but cannot prove Frank's involvement in this or several other crimes, before taking on another job - this time transporting some mysterious cargo in the trunk of his BMW. After his clients decide to clean up any evidence of a crime - including Frank - they soon find that they have made a terrible mistake. Aside from being a terrific driver, he is also ex-Special Forces, and pretty soon his wrath is unleashed upon his employers and their secret smuggling operation.
Prior to this, the Brit star - Jason Statham - had only really done work with Guy Richie, and none of it involved taking his shirt off and kicking the hell out of a dozen thugs at a time. Built like a UFC fighter, his moves seem quite authentic and echo the likes of Brandon Lee, Mark Dacascos and even Jackie Chan for fast, skilled and often improvisational fighting. Although this actioner does not require any heavyweight acting, Statham embodies the unflappable, suit-clad Special Forces 'army-of-one' perfectly, and did so well in the role he returned to it in a sequel (and potentially a threequel next year). The only other actor worth noting is possibly the French Inspector (Francois Berleand) who is investigating Frank, but who secretly approves of his unlawful ideas about bringing the 'real' criminals to justice. It's a clichéd character, but slightly less cardboard than the smarmy villain (Matt Schulze) or the gorgeous but vapid love interest Shu Qi.
Although the story (written by Luc Besson, no less) is utter pap, the script worse and the acting dubious, The Transporter is a great fun martial arts action flick, chock full of ridiculous car chases, superbly choreographed fight sequences and frantic shootouts. It's the kind of movie you have in your collection so that you can revisit the action scenes (and most notably the bus station brawl) repeatedly, and even watch the movie right the way through again, considering its pace and relatively short runtime. A guilty pleasure.
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