starring Jason Statham, Alessandro Gassman, Amber Valletta, Kate Nauta
screenplay by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
directed by Louis Leterrier
by Walter Chaw After the unqualified triumph of Unleashed, the other Luc Besson/Louis Leterrier flick from 2005, my expectations were sky high for Transporter 2, the sequel to Cory Yuen's fitfully-entertaining, unapologetically puerile throwback to the delirious Hong Kong cinema of John Woo and Ringo Lam. (Yuen returns as choreographer.) What a disappointment, then, that this picture's even weaker than its predecessor in terms of character development and plotting, content as it is to be a Jackie Chan ripper with Man on Fire's plot. What so intoxicated about Jackie Chan was this gathering cult of personality born of the man's reckless disregard for his own well-being in the pursuit of fashioning a body of work (individual scenes, not films--the films mostly suck) that for a while resurrected Buster Keaton in every movie theatre outside American soil. Without that sense of Chan's legacy (no one is "collecting" Jason Statham's groovy but inorganic fight scenes), all that's left is a vacuous, utterly-disposable chop-socky flick that pervs on girls with the same kind of childishness with which it pervs on cars. Telling that the MacGuffin of the piece is a hyper-phallic syringe and that the chief henchman is Lola (Katie Nauta), an Aryan Grace Jones with a fondness for lingerie and submachine guns.
Frank (Statham) is the titular driver, a man of several rules who, as the film opens, is the chauffeur for moppet Jack (Hunter Clary), young son of drug czar Jeff (Matthew Modine) and hot stay-at-home mom Audrey (Amber Valletta, who is, against all odds, maybe an actress). An ex-special services hotshot, Frank, after little Jack is kidnapped by evil Ricardo-Montalban-talking baddie Gianni (Alessandro Gassman), goes into full wire-fu mode in the hope of getting him back. More on Frank: He doesn't have sex with Audrey when Audrey throws herself at him, meaning that he might be gay (thus explaining his fastidiousness with his appearance and his knowledge of cars); and he isn't subject to the laws of physics. These aren't prerequisites of course (that he be straight or non-"super"), but what Frank isn't turns out to be considerably more interesting than what he is: another square peg in the society he champions and seeks to restore. It's been done better this year in Batman Begins and it'll be done better again in A History of Violence, leaving Transporter 2 interesting for the two or three people tracking the zeitgeist, but not terribly interesting for anyone else.
The film hints at significance like it hints at everything else. You have the classic estranged father (Jeff) reconciling with needy son (Jack)--and sure enough, there's a parallel father/son structure in the arrival of affable French gendarme (and first-film holdover) Tarconi (François Berléand) to Frank's Miami Beach for a little R&R-interruptus. But Transporter 2 isn't about anything. It's an adolescent teacup ride with curiously dead chase sequences and a couple of fights--one involving a dumpster, another involving a fire hose--that play like semi-bright dirges for Jackie Chan's career and failed American experiment. (If Transporter 2 does anything positive, it makes one want to watch the Drunken Master films again.) Nothing is plausible, what with the ridiculous stunt work moving things into parody and the rest of the picture disrespecting its internal logic with flippant fecklessness. Some sequences hard-to-follow (though Yuen's are crystal clear and easy to distinguish from the rest), others just boring and/or over-digitized (memo: jet-skis aren't exciting), Transporter 2 is a direct-to-video movie with feature-film distribution. I've already started confusing it with the first flick, which means, at least, that I haven't exactly forgotten it--cold comfort, if only par for the course in what's shaking out to be one of the most tepid years in film history. The box office isn't down because there's no The Passion of the Christ, it's down because there's no passion, period; Transporter 2, with its thrown-together patchwork rationale of drug cartels and retroviruses, is the symptom of a greater disease.