A film review by Craig J. Koban December 14, 2015

THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED j
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2015, PG-13, 96 mins.

 

Ed Skrein as Frank Martin  /  Loan Chabanol as Anna  /  Lenn Kudrjawizki as Leo Imasov  /  Radivoje Bukvić as Karasov  /  Gabriella Wright as Gina  /  Ray Stevenson as Frank Martin Sr.

Directed by Camille Delamarre  /  Written by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, and Luc Besson

THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED – which I think is a sort of sequel, sort of reboot to the three previous TRANSPORTER films – is one of the most unnecessary and cheaply disposal films that I’ve seen in many a moon.  

I have a been a fairly staunch apologist of the absurdly enjoyable mayhem that THE TRANSPORTER series has bestowed upon us, but even I can’t really justify the existence of this overstuffed, undercooked, and dreadfully dull fourth film.  Aside from a few moments of genuine white knuckled joy to be derived from some of the film’s more outlandishly engineered action beats, THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED stinks of overt and petty desperation through and through.  

There’s something also really amiss about this production.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Oh yeah!  Jason Statham is completely AWOL.  Rumors have circulated that a low paying salary for this fourth entry was one of the primary reasons for the steely-eyed actor’s unwillingness to return.  That, and perhaps he had the keen foresight to understand that you can only creatively take this character and his franchise so far before it becomes perfunctory and nonsensical.  After seeing the final product, I don’t criticize Statham’s lack of involvement, but rather applaud it.  Replacing him is former GAME OF THRONES star Ed Skrein, who certainly has the muscle bound brawn to effectively convey a man of dexterous blunt force violence.  Yet, on a level of personality he seems all kinds of wrong.  Statham’s cooler than cool charisma - and self-deprecating awareness of the series’ wicked implausibility – helped to make his TRANSPORTER films all the more easily watchable.  Skrein, by direct comparison, feels more like an inferior eleventh hour substitute and poser.   

 

 

Viewers that have not been exposed to the last several TRANSPORTER films will probably feel hopelessly lost when it comes to character dynamics here, whereas die hard fans of the franchise will simply grow to care less as the film progresses.  For the uninitiated, THE TRANSPORTER series deals with the gravity and logic defying adventures of Frank Martin, an ex-Special Forces soldier that now makes ends meet in southern France as a limitlessly skilled getaway driver that has a tricked out car that would make Batman blush with envy.  Of course, just like every other loner action hero, he lives by aggressively self-imposed rules in terms of what kind of jobs he’ll do and specific parameters that are a part of them.  Now, anyone familiar with the last three films will laughingly recall that Frank seems to essentially throw out his own rule book, at least when the screenplay deemed it completely necessary.  

THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED returns Frank back into the fold, albeit with – as mentioned – a different actor in Skrein at the helm.  Frank is still a transporter for hire, taking all forms of suspicious packages and people on potentially dangerous missions for a disgustingly high payday.  He gets in proverbially way, way over his head when he takes a job from Anna (Loan Chabanol), which initially looks like a relatively easy and normal pick up for him.  However, it soon becomes apparent that Anna and her three accomplices have orchestrated a bank robbery and have – gasp! – kidnapped Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson), making Frank’s mission all the more dangerously uncertain.  Frank does discover that Anna and her squad are a quartet of prostitutes that wish to get revenge on a vile Russian mobster/human trafficker (Yuri Kolokolnikov) for treating them all like trash for several years.  Rather predictably, Frank finds himself begrudgingly working with these women to both secure his father’s freedom and to take down this brutal thug. 

On a positive, THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED is a piece of swift Eurotrash action cinema that displays mercy in being…short.  I guess that there is a certain level of thrills to be had in watching Frank use whatever is at his disposal in order to thwart his adversaries (usually either his fists or his car).  One creative – but insanely far-fetched – sequence has Frank careen his car around a street and pitch perfectly knocks the caps off of multiple fire hydrants.  Director Camille Delamarre (whom previously made the inexcusably bad BRICK MANSIONS) displays some fun in showcasing the film’s eccentrically oddball stunts, which is on chief display in the film’s ape shit crazy finale involving a yacht and jet skis.  I have never, ever demanded realism, per se, in any of THE TRANSPORTER films.  I've only demanded to be entertained by their penchant for deliriously over-the-top spectacle.  In this way, THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED modestly delivers. 

Yet, damn it, the elephant in the room that constantly stymied my overall enjoyment of this film is the lack of Statham in it.  He felt oddly plausible as a magnetically brooding and intense physical presence in this series; he essentially carried what would have been an instantly forgettable car chase action series with someone else in the lead role.  Now, I certainly don’t dislike Skrein as an actor, not to mention that’s he seems wholeheartedly up to the task of executing multiple martial arts-infused fight sequences with a real rugged might.  The real problem is that he just seems too coldly detached and lacks charm in the role.  He also takes the role as seriously as a heart attack.  There’s rarely a moment featuring Skrein giving audience members an all-knowing wink that he’s in on the joke that is this film, whereas Statham sort of achieved the impossible dichotomy of playing his role straight while fully acknowledging the ludicrousness that surrounded him. 

The writing in THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED is also abysmally giggle inducing.  When the film isn’t dishing out high octane action sequences it has even more scenes of characters engaging in expository heavy (and heavy handed) dialogue exchanges that are so wooden that the actors come off more like department store mannequins than flesh and blood people.  Ray Stevenson might be the only actor among the bunch that seems to display a mischievous twinkle in his eye on a performance level, but his father character seems more like a pathetic victim of the film’s lackluster scripting.  Granted, the only time that THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED seems to have a pulse of intrigue is when he’s on screen with Skrein, but the whole potentially compelling father/son dynamic here is kind of wasted. 

It’s funny, but we live in a relative era when other notable franchises like THE FAST AND FURIOUS and most recently the ROCKY series with CREED have managed to find a manner of making themselves feel fresh and relevant…even with extremely late entries in the respective franchises.  THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED seems to display no interest whatsoever in terms of radically reinventing itself.  Instead, it lazily goes back to the creative well with a half-hearted entry that seems to exist primarily to make a quick buck regardless of quality.  The three previous TRANSPORTER films, warts and all, had their engines fully tuned and put their pedals to the metal.  THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED seems like it’s pathetically out of gas and barely makes its way out of the driveway. 

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