Friday, September 04, 2015

The Transporter Refueled: Frank Martin Rises Again

They look like they stepped out of a Robert Palmer video. Frank Martin’s latest clients are highly synchronized and they need a driver. They will repeatedly break his rules, but their desperation makes them quite persuasive. Of course, Martin always keeps his cool in the latest re-configuration of Luc Besson’s strangely resilient franchise. Deliveries will be made in Camille Delamarre’s The Transporter Refueled (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

Clearly, Martin got his keenness for punctuality from his chop-busting father, who has just retired from an ambiguous government career that came with a cover job as a salesman for Evian (it’s “naïve” spelled backwards). He ought to be a little more resourceful, but somehow Frank Senior allows himself to be taken hostage by four women trafficked into prostitution by a Russian vice lord. Anna, Gina, Maria, and Qiao know they cannot simply run away from Arkady Karasov. They will have to hit his network where it counts—in the wallet. Thus, Martin reluctantly serves as their wheelman for a series of clever heists, while his father jolly well enjoys being a hostage.

When it comes to films set in Monaco, Refueled beats the stuffing out of the justly infamous Grace of Monaco. Delamarre understands what Transporter movies are supposed to be and executes accordingly. There are at least two action sequences that are ludicrously over the top, but what of it? It is not like the film slows down long enough for us to analyze the aerodynamics of any given scene. Cinematographer Christophe Collette also makes the Principality backdrops sparkle quite alluringly.

Ed Skrein has a strange look. It’s like you can see the exact shape of his skull because there is only a thin layer of skin stretched over it. He also has an odd screen presence, coming across as intense, but somehow simultaneously disdainfully disinterested in everything around him. Yet, that sort of works for Frank Junior. He has all kinds of cred in the fight scenes, but Ray Stevenson gets all the laughs as his cooler, funnier dad. His shameless scenery chewing is a major reason why the film is such deliriously guilty pleasure.

Loan Chabanol, who attracted notice with her short but memorable appearance in Fading Gigolo, can’t project the same élan as Anna, but it is hard to compete with all the black Audis flying through the air. It is also a shame former Miss World Yu Wenxia does not have more screen time, because she seems to have a bit of a spark, but most of the time Anna’s three amigos just strut about in the background, to raise our awareness of human trafficking. What did you expect, really? Frankly, the film’s real shortcoming is its interchangeably generic villain. We have seen plenty of cats like Radivoje Bukvic’s Karasov done before and done better (Michael Nyqvist in John Wick springs readily to mind).

Refueled does not want to hear any whining about messages or characterization. It is a self-aware meathead movie that delights in its own shallowness. Style and energy are all that matter in a Besson-produced action joint, but Delamarre brings more than enough to keep the boss happy. Sort of a weird early 2000’s nostalgia trip for franchise fans that will also resonate for the original MTV generation, The Transporter Refueled is recommended for those who want a shiny object to distract them. It opens across the country today (9/4), including the AMC Empire in New York.