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The Transporter Series

The Transporter (November 13/08)

Though it suffers from an admittedly flabby midsection, The Transporter's gleefully over-the-top action set pieces and expectedly charismatic star turn from Jason Statham prove effective in sustaining one's interest on a fairly consistent basis. Statham stars as Frank Martin, a high-priced transporter of illicit objects who finds himself caught up in a human trafficking scheme after breaking a self-imposed rule to "never look in the package." Director Corey Yuen has infused The Transporter with an unapologetically broad, downright tongue-in-cheek sensibility that ensures the movie is at its best during its action-oriented sequences, as the quieter moments within Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's screenplay can't help but come off as dull and colorless by comparison. It subsequently goes without saying that the admittedly electrifying opening half hour gives way to a lamentably uneventful second act, in which Frank - having reluctantly agreed to assist Lai (Shu Qi) in her quest - investigates central villain Wall Street's (Matt Schulze) felonious activities and generally participates in a series of character-building endeavors. As compelling as Statham is here, there's little doubt that one's patience does start to grow thin during this stretch - yet it's just as clear that the movie bounces back with a vengeance for a thrilling final half hour that's relentless in its emphasis on violence and mayhem. The end result is an effort that ultimately fares a whole lot better than the majority of its similarly-themed brethren, with Yuen's colorful sense of style certainly an improvement over the hopelessly morose modi operandi of filmmakers like Len Wiseman, John Moore, and Xavier Gens.

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Transporter 2 (November 17/08)

Armed with a myriad of gravity (and logic) defying set pieces, Transporter 2 follows Jason Statham's Frank Martin as he once again finds himself embroiled in a larger-than-life plot with decidedly sinister overtones. This time around, Frank must spring into action after the son of his wealthy clients (Matthew Modine's Jefferson and Amber Valletta's Audrey) is kidnapped by a nefarious villain (Alessandro Gassman's Gianni) and his various goons (including Kate Nauta's scantily-clad Lola). There's little doubt that returning screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen have improved upon the first Transporter adventure by placing a more consistent emphasis on action sequences, which effectively ensures that the film rarely suffers from the narrative lulls that plagued its predecessor. It's also worth noting that the scripters have clearly embraced the series' unapologetically broad sensibilities, as evidenced by the gleefully over-the-top fight scenes and patently absurd plot twists (in terms of the latter, there reaches a point at which Besson and Kamen essentially give up trying to explain how/why certain things are happening). The movie's biggest misstep, then, quickly proves to be its almost impossibly garish visuals, as filmmaker Louis Leterrier - along with cinematographers Mitchell Amundsen and Fabrice Bismuth - has infused the proceedings with a washed-out, high-contrast look that proves a consistent distraction and ultimately threatens to single-handedly negate Transporter 2's positive attributes. It's a baffling choice that's sure to test the patience of even the most enthusiastic action buff, and it certainly does seem as though the film would rank a whole lot higher had Leterrier employed a less ostentatious visual style.

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Transporter 3 (November 24/08)

The Transporter franchise presumably comes to a close with this woefully flaccid entry that often feels more like a road-trip drama than a bona fide action flick, as director Olivier Megaton - working from Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's screenplay - has infused the proceedings with a deliberately-paced, needlessly talky sensibility that's certainly a far cry from the kinetic modus operandi of its immediate predecessor. The movie - which follows Jason Statham's Frank Martin as he finds himself forced into driving a mysterious package across Europe by a sinister figure (Robert Knepper's Johnson) - subsequently possesses few of the elements that one has come to expect from this ongoing series, with the inclusion of several pointless subplots and expositional interludes sure to test the patience of even the most loyal Statham enthusiast. The baffling decision to place a consistent emphasis on Frank's burgeoning relationship with his reluctant passenger (Natalya Rudakova's Valentina) is exacerbated by Rudakova's increasingly grating performance, and it ultimately goes without saying that the majority of the film's most gratuitous moments revolve around the tedious back-and-forth rapport between Frank and Valentina. Having said that, Transporter 3 does manage to sporadically capture one's interest with its expectedly thrilling action sequences - which, though bogged down with Megaton's aggressively in-your-face visuals, are effective enough to warrant a mild recommendation (with the appreciatively over-the-top finale certainly standing as an obvious highlight).

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The Transporter: Refueled (August 29/15)

The Transporter: Refueled conclusively proves that this series' mild success has been a result of Jason Statham's magnetic turn as the central character, as the movie's efforts to replace the actor with Ed Skrein fall flat on a frustratingly consistent basis (ie Skrein, though competent, is just hopelessly bland here). The dull narrative, which follows protagonist Frank Martin as he's blackmailed into helping four ex-prostitutes exact revenge on their brutal pimp, suffers from a lack of momentum that's compounded by an emphasis on pointless subplots, with, for example, a romantic relationship between Frank and one of his clients certainly ranking high on the movie's list of needless elements. Far more problematic, though, is Skrein's less-than-charismatic turn as the film's tough-as-nails hero, as there's just never a point at which the viewer is able to work up any interest in or sympathy for Frank's increasingly perilous exploits. It's clear, however, that The Transporter: Refueled staves off total worthlessness thanks to a few admittedly compelling action sequences, with director Camille Delamarre infusing such moments with precisely the sort of over-the-top ludicrousness one has come to expect from this franchise. (It's difficult, for instance, not to get a kick out of an interlude that sees Frank driving his car through an airport terminal.) The protracted, tedious climactic stretch ensures that The Transporter: Refueled ends on an underwhelming note, ultimately, and one can only hope that this marks the beginning and end of Skrein's tenure as the enigmatic Frank Martin.

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© David Nusair