The Transporter

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Action Thriller
Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Jason Statham, Qi Shu, Matt Schulze, Francois Berleand, Ric Young
Rated: PG-13

If we must have shaven-headed action heroes, then I’ll take the ultra-cool sophistication of Jason Statham over the guttural street-thuggery of Vin Diesel any day of the week — especially when Statham is showcased in a movie as agreeably over the top as Corey Yuen’s The Transporter.

No, the movie doesn’t make any more sense than XXX or Ballistic, but it’s not overlong like the former, nor is it as sloppy as the latter. If anything, The Transporter may be even sillier than the others, but its silliness actually works in its favor — so much so that I genuinely regret that the final cut of the film does not include the riotously absurd bit that appears in the trailer, where Statham redirects a missile by deflecting it with a pie tin. (The idea that someone found this point unbelievable while overlooking everything else in the film is pretty funny on its own.)

What makes The Transporter so much fun is the fact that it’s cheerfully at one with its own goofiness. Any movie that dares to include the line, “He was a bastard, but he was my father,” and allows it to be delivered with a straight face is hard to dislike. Does it matter that the action sequences are state-of-the-art? Not these days, no — computer-controlled remote-camera setups and limitless CGI jiggery-pokery make that not such a big deal (even if XXX managed to screw up such things in its editing). Suffice to say that the action scenes in The Transporter are breathtakingly executed. What sets the film apart from other examples of Exploding Cinema is a combination of tone, inventiveness, cheekiness — and Jason Statham.

Like last year’s Kiss of the Dragon, Luc Besson’s participation as co-writer and co-producer works in the film’s favor, even though it’s hard not to believe that a better film would have resulted had he also directed. That matters a little less here than it did with Kiss of the Dragon, with its slightly more serious tone. In both cases, though, Besson can be credited for creating a charismatic leading man, an appealing damsel in distress and delightfully lip-smacking villains.

Unlike the amateurish antics evidenced in Rob Cohen’s XXX and Kaos’ (what an apt name) Ballistic, The Transporter truly understands the requirements of its genre. Like its star, there’s not an ounce of fat on its frame. It’s just an engaging, straight-ahead actioner that delivers the goods.

Statham, so appealing in Snatch, plays Frank Martin, the transporter of the title. He’s a no-nonsense, self-contained mercenary who specializes in moving things and people with maximum effectiveness. When the film opens, he’s faced with a dilemma — having contracted to serve as the getaway for three robbers, he finds himself unexpectedly faced with a fourth passenger. With cool detachment, Frank refuses to budge until the original contract is honored, leaving the gang leader no choice other than shooting the extraneous member and leaving the corpse behind. No question about it: the Transporter doesn’t fool around. The big problem arises when Frank breaks one of his own rules and opens a “package” containing a kidnapped woman, Lai (Qi Shu), thereby not only becoming involved, but earning the murderous ire of the kidnapper (Matthew Schulze) and her father (Ric Young).

Statham proves that he has what it takes to carry a film — and then some. There aren’t that many actors who can manage to make the poker-faced claim that the 50,000 rounds of ammunition used to destroy his multi-million-dollar Mediterranean villa (supposedly paid for by — ahem — his military pension!) were the result of a mistake on the part of his assailants and not appear foolish. Statham never appears foolish — not even when the script (as it often does) calls for him to arbitrarily remove his shirt, or asks him to slide around in quantities of oil in a beefcake variant of mud-wrestling with equally muscular bad guys! Yes, but is it art? No. And it’s not supposed to be. It’s just an expert actioner done with such class that it’s a lot more fun than it probably ought to be.

– reviewed by Ken Hanke

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

20 thoughts on “The Transporter

  1. Jeremy Dylan

    Art. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture.

  2. Jeremy Dylan

    I really don’t understand your objection to that. Do you feel that the word ‘art’ implies a particular level of quality?

  3. Ken Hanke

    In a sense,yes. Though you’re probably too young to remember that “yes, but is it art?” is a long-standing criical cliche — which is why I like using it on occasion. But, yes, I think art as a term carries, if not a degree of quality, then at least a level of intent — one I do not think exists with this movie.

  4. Jeremy Dylan

    Though you’re probably too young to remember that “yes, but is it art?” is a long-standing criical cliche

    I’m familiar with the expression – although I’ve always found it a bit pretentious.

    But, yes, I think art as a term carries, if not a degree of quality, then at least a level of intent — one I do not think exists with this movie.

    Where does the dividing line fall though? Is SIN CITY art? FANTASTIC MR. FOX? SLEEPERS? THE 39 STEPS?

  5. Ken Hanke

    I’m happily pretentious in this area then. I do not think that everything is art. It reduces the idea that a film can aspire to the level of art.

  6. Jeremy Dylan

    That’s kind of where we part company then. I don’t think there is a “level” of art. I think there are levels of art.

    There’s crap art and there’s great art.

  7. Big Al

    Did I wake up from my latest nap in a time warp? How did this thread emerge from a 12-year-old movie review?

    Also, discussing what constitutes art in the context of a Jason Statham action film (I am a fan, BTW) is only slightly less bewildering than the first observation.

    But, since we are here (again, how..?), I don’t think Staham’s home was a “multi-million-dollar Mediterranean villa (supposedly paid for by — ahem — his military pension!)”, it was a decommissioned lighthouse, which a former SAS commando working as a private consultant could probably get a mortgage on without much difficulty. He might even get a tax break for refurbishing a historic property if it is on a registry of same.

    I do agree (sort of) with Jeremy’s distinction of “levels of art”. I love folk art, but most “fine arts” bore me to tears. For those who hold the opposing view, I say “vive la difference”. When/if we start pigeonholing what does or does not constitute art, we begin to slide down the slippery slope of pretentious exclusion where an elite cadre of snobs can define, sequester and minimalize us.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Well, let’s be honest, it’s one of several places we part company. And this isn’t the first time we’ve had this argument.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Did I wake up from my latest nap in a time warp? How did this thread emerge from a 12-year-old movie review?

    Young Jeremy seems to be prone to wandering through the old reviews. I’m not sure why in most cases, because I’ve known him as long as these reviews have been going on. (I do not think the online archive part is that old, or at least in a very important capacity,)

    Also, discussing what constitutes art in the context of a Jason Statham action film (I am a fan, BTW) is only slightly less bewildering than the first observation.

    Oh, this is basically an old argument of ours. (Don’t bring up the auteur theory or we’ll be here all winter.)

    I don’t think Staham’s home was a “multi-million-dollar Mediterranean villa (supposedly paid for by — ahem — his military pension!)”, it was a decommissioned lighthouse, which a former SAS commando working as a private consultant could probably get a mortgage on without much difficulty.

    Well, I wouldn’t argue the point, since I haven’t seen the movie more than the one time all those years ago. And much as I like Statham (I do have Lock, Stock, etc and Snatch and the Crank pictures and maybe The Bank Job), I’m not likely to.

    I do agree (sort of) with Jeremy’s distinction of “levels of art”. I love folk art, but most “fine arts” bore me to tears. For those who hold the opposing view, I say “vive la difference”.

    I would agree, except I’d call it “types of art,” since in broad terms, we’re still talking about artistic expression. I draw the line, however, at thinking that a Transformers movie or The Oogieloves lay claim to any such distinction.

  10. Jeremy Dylan

    Did I wake up from my latest nap in a time warp? How did this thread emerge from a 12-year-old movie review?

    Unless this was redefining the term ‘advance screening’, the date stamp on this review is incorrect. The film only came out ten years ago.

  11. Jeremy Dylan

    Young Jeremy seems to be prone to wandering through the old reviews. I’m not sure why in most cases, because I’ve known him as long as these reviews have been going on.

    Well, this one predates my presence on SS by about a year.

    Anyway, my level of understanding and appreciation of both these reviews and the movies themselves has evolved somewhat since I was thirteen years old. There is value to revisiting them.

  12. Ken Hanke

    Unless this was redefining the term ‘advance screening’, the date stamp on this review is incorrect. The film only came out ten years ago.

    Everything before a certain date stamped 2000. Don’t ask me why.

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