Criticizing the Transporter franchise – a lowbrow, low budget hodgepodge of vehicle fetishization, kung fu largesse and hackneyed action storytelling if ever I have seen it (and I have) – feels vaguely wrongheaded. If ever there was a series that should be immune to observations like “Well, THAT wold never happen,” it’s one in which our hero drives up an airport luggage ramp and flings his car safely and efficiently into the jet bridge.
And yet not all Transporters are created equal. The first two films in this series are chipper romps – bulging with expertly choreographed action and refreshingly intentional gay subtext – but the later entries suffer from the opposite. The Transporter 3 and now The Transporter Refueled are hard movies to follow, in both plot and punching, and they have seemingly robbed our hero of the only thing that made him stand out from the other high-kicking cinematic heroes in the contemporary landscape: his alienation.
For whereas Jason Statham spent most of the first two Transporter movies utterly annoyed that he ever had to be heroic, and uttly unable to acknowledge his love for Inspector Tarconi (“Ever since I am a little boy, military people have always intrigued me.” “I’m ex-military.” “I’m an ex-little boy.”), this new Transporter as played by Ed Skrein is… tall? Maybe a little pouty? It’s hard to watch The Transporter Refueled and come away with any sense of who this new version of Frank Martin is, or why he does anything, and what makes his adventures special. He’s a generic action hunk with no motivation, no history beyond “generic military stuff” and a wackily broad skill set that includes ghost riding the whip, but in attack mode.
The Transporter Refueled begins ludicrously enough, with the villainous Arkady (Radivoje Bukvic) taking over the whole French prostitution business by killing a three pimps and putting two women out on the street. One of these prostitutes is Anna, a twelve-year-old played by 30-something model Loan Chabanol, who – fifteen years later (those years have been kind) – enacts an elaborate revenge plot with her fellow sex workers to rob Arkady and win back their freedom.
But first, they have to kidnap The Transporter’s dad. You would think that would be a big mistake but it turns out that Frank Senior (Ray Stevenson) is basically fine with it, especially since he gets to seduce victims of lifelong sexual abuse into three-way sex right after they have been shot in the chest.
Yes, that really happens. Our heroic women are trying to escape sexual commoditization and then commoditize their bodies for the male heroes, but only after dropping uncomfortable stories about their abuse. Lord only knows if that’s supposed to be hot.
Eventually their many convoluted plans come together in a finale that proves two things: 1) that their entire scheme was too complicated, and could have been accomplished an hour earlier by killing all the bad guys and stealing their thumbs, and 2) that rock really does beat scissors.
Again, it feels as though these Transporter movies really should be safe from criticism. They are, and always have been, astonishingly dumb. But there are different kinds of dumb, and some are more enjoyable than others. This terrible plot isn’t hiding under a heap of charismatic heroism and villainy, and the action isn’t nearly exciting enough to offer a distraction either. The Transporter Refueled may not be as bad as The Transporter 3, but it’s definitely a clunker.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.