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‘Transporter 2’, while still fun, takes the crazy level a notch too high

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Transporter 2

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

Directed by Louis Leterrier

France, 2005

It took three full years for Frank Martin (Jason Statham) to make his return to the silver screen following the modest success that was The Transporter in 2002, but not a lot had changed in the interim, notwithstanding a few cosmetic details. Frank still offers his services privately to whomever is willing to pay, only now he has established himself in Miami. In very James Bondian fashion, the previous film’s leading lady is nowhere to be found. This time, it is Audrey (Amber Valleta), beautiful wife to brilliant doctor Jefferson Billings (Matthew Modine), who opines over the rugged entrepreneur. The Billings have hired Frank a month ago to drive their young son Jack to and from school. Frank has, rather surprisingly, developed something of a rapport with the youth, which prompts him into action on the day the boy is kidnapped by ostentatious villainess Lola (Kate Nauta), working under the auspices of her lover Gianni Chellini (Alessandro Gassman). They hold Jack for ransom, but behind the scenes are prepping a deadly, injectable virus that will be exposed through Jack and into Jefferson who is to shortly host a conference with the worlds leading personalities from the medical community.

In the previous film, there was a clear increase in the intensity of ridiculousness as the movie jumped, sprinted and punched its way to a amazingly silly finale that shun what little sense of reality its first half had established. The returning trio of director Louis Leterrier and screenwriting duo Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (Corey Yuen is missing in action for this round) take the devil may care attitude of the original film’s second half and apply it right from the get go in Transporter 2. Even the cinematography and colour palette strongly suggest that this second entry in the series aims for an even more cartoonish, bright comic book feel than the original did. The colours are extraordinarily vibrant, artificially so, resembling the aesthetic Michael Bay often goes for in his Transformers films and Pain and Gain, the latter which was also set in Miami, interestingly enough. While the effort to provide the picture with its own identity is commendable, the style packages the entire film in a very obvious coating of artifice whereas the first film looked handsome by relying on strong cinematography that captured the beauty of the locales. It’s certainly different, but whether it actually a more effective filmmaking choice is up for debate. The visuals are aggressive, to put it mildly.

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This differentiates the film from a visual standpoint, but the filmmakers try their hands at distinguishing the endeavour tonally, both in the style of the action on display and in the editing bay. First and foremost, the aforementioned silliness of the first film’s second half permeates the entirety of Transporter 2. There is little to no semblance of reality this time around, as Frank Martin and sometimes the villains benefit from unbelievable abilities to perform impossible feats, such as Frank driving his beautiful Audi A8 up a slanted ramp so that a nearby lifting hook can swat away a bomb planted underneath the vehicle. On paper, the idea is hilarious. In execution, the feat is also rather amusing, but almost as much for its sensational nature as for the dubious computer generated effects that strive to bring the moment to life. Even by 2005 standards, whatever digitally animated enhancements are utilized to heighten certain action beats are unimpressive, shamelessly establishing the project’s modest budget compared to other action extravaganzas. Therein lies part of the film’s issues however. While there are a handful of sequences during which Jason Statham and his colleagues are awarded the spotlight to strut their stuff, Leterrier and company regularly give in to instances of CG imagery to make moments stand out more. Why on earth they felt the need to do so with a star as physically gifted as Statham on their team is anybody’s guess.

The editing technique is also vastly different than what viewers were given last time around. Leterrier calls upon the services of a duo of editors, Christine Lucas-Navarro and Vincent Tabaillon, with the results indicating that both were big fans of 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy. Yes, the infamous quick cuts make their introduction into the franchise, and while it is not quite an extreme detriment to Transporter 2, it is hard to argue that that tactic makes the action any better than it otherwise would have been with a more tempered flow to the editing. Unsurprisingly, there are moments when what could have been very impressive stuntwork is chopped to bits in such a way that they sadly become difficult to comprehend and appreciate. This is the risk incurred by filmmakers that fail to make proper use of rapid fire editing. The technique in of itself is not detrimental to films, but one must know how to judiciously apply it, otherwise the impact of scenes make be easily lost.

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All criticisms aside, for what it is worth The Transporter 2 does offer a decent amount of thrilling action beats that make the most of its star’s enviable physical prowess. When working with creative stunt coordinators and fellow actors, a Jason Statham scene can become a beautiful ballet of dumfounding martial arts brutality. Better still, the tone of the battles in this sequel are steeped in the same spirit as those of its predecessor, by which they never become spectacularly gruesome or gritty in any way. Instead, there is a joy de vivre about them, making them nearly as funny as they are viscerally impressive. If Frank Martin’s nemesis had been as interesting, so to speak, this around than as in the first film, then Transporter 2 could have been on same level. Unfortunately, Alessandro Valleta as Gianni Chellini and Kate Nauta as Lola are cartoonish, but not charismatic. Lola is visually distinctive, what with her horrendous makeup that makes her look like nothing less than a junkie, and the actress’ performance is hammy in the best way possible, yet her lover Gianni is just a generic action movie baddie looking to make an easy buck by killing hundreds of people.

Statham’s stone-faced charisma manages to shine through just enough to remind viewers why he is such an interesting star to watch. Arguably the most intriguing thematic aspect to Transporter 2 is the discussion surrounding the protagonist’s sexual orientation. At the time of the picture’s release, director Leterrier actually mentioned in an interview that Frank Martin is a gay movie hero. Many, basing themselves on the scene in which the hero refuses Audrey’s advances, stating that he cannot be with her because of who he is, support the director’s statement. The debate is a noteworthy one, considering the paltry number of homosexual or bisexual characters in mainstream cinema, least of all characters in starring roles that kick butt like Frank martin does. Whether or not that actually makes Frank more interesting or not is another matter altogether. So long as he remains as awesome at staying a bad ass with a heart of gold and show his opponents how to properly use watermelons as boxing gloves, then all will be well in the Transporter universe.

Coming up next…

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-Edgar Chaput


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