If you really want to be especially nihilistic, all movies to some degree are pointless and superfluous. But there are degrees of pointlessness and superfluousness, and high up the chart is a fourth Transporter film. Still higher is a fourth Transporter film that doesn’t even have Jason Statham in it. But here we are with The Transporter Refueled, the latest installment — some seven years after Olivier Megaton’s Transporter 3 — a film that, for some reason exists in spite of the absence of the only recognizable aspect of the franchise, Statham.
Oddly, the franchise hasn’t been rejiggered all that much, as Refueled still centers around our titular tough guy, private driver and ex-mercenary Frank Martin. This was Statham’s role, one that wasn’t written out of this fourth installment, but instead simply recast — with someone 15 years younger and about 50 pounds lighter, not to mention with a full head of hair. Statham has been replaced by Ed Skrein (The Sweeney), a much less imposing or charming version of Frank Martin, although — to an extent at least — he’s able to hold his own in this wise-cracking action-hero role. And in all honesty, what difference does the change make (really, who knows who Frank Martin is anyway?)
In the film’s defense, it’s not like this drastic switch in actors is all that jarring in a film universe that’s revealed in its own goofy absurdity. Unfortunately — in this department at least — Refueled has lost a bit of the franchise’s luster. The plot is generally in the same vein and wonderfully convoluted, as Martin gets roped into helping a quartet of prostitutes get very complex, very intricate revenge on the leaders of a French sex ring. The way in which the plot unfurls is really the most entertaining aspect of the film. On the side, there are the requisite car chases and fist fights and explosions, but the level of absurdity in Refueled compared to the rest of the Transporter series is a bit weak.
Sure, Martin and company take on a nightclub full of people by hooking knockout gas up to a smoke machine. And yes, Martin manages to escape a squad of police motorcycles by whizzing around a roundabout and knocking the caps off a series of fire hydrants with the tail end of his Audi. But these (admittedly fun) over-the-top moments just don’t quite come often enough. It’s a shame, too, since the repartee between Martin and his womanizing father (Ray Stevenson) is enjoyable, while a handful of fight scenes — like one featuring a hallway full of filing cabinets — are clever (even with director Camille Delamarre’s spastic fight direction). But in between these moments of inspired foolish action filmmaking are a lack of budget, a lack of urgency and a petering out of ideas, the unfortunate side effects of so many long-running franchises. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, sexual material, some language, a drug reference and thematic elements.