It has the classy car, a cool operator and devil-may-care attitude, yet "The Transporter Refueled" more closely resembles a recent summer blockbuster than the Jason Statham franchise it's meant to relaunch. And that makes it downright laughable.
EuropaCorp, producers of the "Taken" trilogy and "Lucy," give audiences a slimmer, sleeker Frank Martin in the form of "Game of Thrones" veteran Ed Skrein. While this English ingendude has a smug smile and street cred like his predecessor, Skrein lacks Statham's physique and rugged charisma. Skrein's slim swimmer's body looks great in Frank's tailored suits, but when he faces off against three foes so large they seem like mountains of flesh, it's hard to believe he could take them in a fight, especially with such ease.
Nonetheless, "Taken 2" director Camille Delamarre loves his pretty-boy lead, celebrating Skrein's striking figure with numerous circling shots from dollies and helicopters alike. It seems as if Skrein isn't starring in a film so much as a glamorous commercial, a feeling that's bolstered by flagrant product placement. There are glaring insert shots of Evian bottled water, Omega luxury watches, an American Express card and, of course, the Audi S8.
It's a given that "The Transporter Refueled" would indulge in car porn, lovingly leering at the interior and its shiny hubcaps, concentrating on close-ups of Frank caressing the leather steering wheel, and lingering on the silver logo. But the film takes it so far that you might think you're still in the tedious commercial packet of the theater's advertising preamble. Yet amid all this product placement and Skein's stern modeling, there is a plot -- and it's one you might well recognize.
Uninterested in local politics, Frank is a man just trying to get by in a crazy mixed-up world. That's until his path collides with Anna (Loan Chabanol), who's on a mission to free herself and her friends from the grip of a merciless crime lord (Radivoje Bukvic), who forced them into prostitution. However, these women are not merely escaping; they're bringing down the men who set up a crime-ridden culture.
Yes, "The Transporter Refueled" is "Mad Max: Fury Road," only set on the French Riviera, and awful.
First and foremost, none of the characters in "The Transporter Refueled" is as interesting or iconic as Max and Furiosa. Secondly, this car chase-centric action film happily tramples into the tropes "Mad Max: Fury Road" was celebrated for avoiding. While Max and Furiosa were spared a tedious romantic subplot, "The Transporter Refueled" is sure to wedge in not just one between Frank and Anna, but also one involving his dad Frank Senior (Ray Stevenson) and one of Anna's young (and interchangeable) cohorts.
The action scenes between the two films don't compare at all: While "Mad Max: Fury Road" was operatic and mind-blowing in its grandeur and imagination, "The Transporter Refueled" thinks throwing filing cabinets into the mix is innovative, and delivers a sloppy collision of speed ramps, swish pans and quick cuts to gussy up the fight choreography Skrein can't sell on his own. Nothing here demands the IMAX release the movie is getting. And as for the car chase scenes that should be the film's biggest selling point: They look like car commercials.
But the most depressing contrast between "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "The Transporter Refueled" is the treatment of the female characters. Where the former treats them as people, and refuses to make sex objects out of rape victims, the latter has no such qualms.
"The Transporter Refueled" wants to have it both ways. Its villainous pimp is to be reviled, and we're meant to feel for these poor women who were sold into prostitution as children, and raped for years. But hey, that doesn't mean the camera won't leer at them as if they were a shiny new car to possess. Clearly playing to the teen-boy audience the PG-13 rating invites, Delamarre offers as many ass shots and random booty-shaking as the MPAA will allow. Because what is the point of having a woman in an action movie if we can't stare at her ass? Throw in some nonsensical girl-on-girl kissing too while you're at it. (And Delamarre does.)
Further galling is the way the editing reveals how little faith the film has in its audience. A few short minutes after the first scene that sets up the violent human-trafficking ring and its trio of leaders, we cut to "15 years later." And just in case you couldn't follow that the characters you just saw are still in the movie, the film does not one but four flashbacks in one scene to basically scream at you, "Remember this guy! He's got shorter hair now. This guy! Him too. This guy! He also has a different haircut 15 years later, but it's still the same guy. Got it? OK."
But that's not all. Characters also spell out plot points in dialogue that were plenty clear through visuals. Like when three of the escaping women dress identically down to their wigs during a bank heist, an oh-so-helpful crony exclaims, "They are dressed the same so you can't tell them apart!" She later offers another redundant explanation when the trio keeps the wigs but changes clothes, "Same girls. Different outfits."
Those insults to the audience's intelligence are about the closest things to laughs "The Transporter Refueled" offers, unless you count bland dialogue and dud one-liners as fun. When Frank growls lines like, "As soon as you think they can't come up with something, they come up with something else," I wondered if the original script was written in another language then translated by Google.
The sole joy to be had from "The Transporter Refueled" is Ray Stevenson, who knows how to sell even a bad line. He radiates with a smarmy charm and silver-fox sex appeal. As the movie trudged along from one tedious set piece to the next, I began to imagine a prequel centered on Frank Senior. And if -- despite my warnings that this movie is too profoundly stupid to enjoy -- you decide to see "The Transporter Refueled," I advise you keep this mental game in mind. It'll help make the increasingly plot hole-ridden narrative more bearable.
In related news, "Mad Max: Fury Road" is out on DVD. Maybe just pick that up instead.
"The Transport: Refueled" opens today.