Transporter 2 is so lightweight and frivolous, it makes one of Roger Moore's Bond epics look like Crime and Punishment.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

You may remember Jason Statham's "transporter" character from the 2002 movie of the same name. If you liked that film, 2005's "Transporter 2" is mostly more of the same.

The running time for "Transporter 2" is about five minutes shorter than its progenitor's, but the new film is filled with all the things that made the first movie an audience favorite: Gunfights, fistfights, fast cars, fast women, things blowing up, and the same supercool antihero. Statham plays Frank Martin (whom everyone calls "Frank"), the best transporter in the business. A transporter, if you don't know or remember, is a person who transports goods from one place to another, no questions asked. Naturally, the goods are almost always on the shady or illegal side, if you get my drift; otherwise, there's UPS. Frank is an ex-military man, an ex-pilot, an ex-hero, and an ex-pert automobile driver and martial artist. Given his qualifications and line of work, trouble is unavoidable.

Not only is Statham back, so is writer-producer Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita," "Leon the Professional," "The Fifth Element") and director Louis Leterrier (who was the artistic director on the first "Transporter"). I wish I could say that "Transporter 2" was up to the level of action, adventure, comedy, and poignancy that marks Besson's best work, but, alas, this one looks more like a throwaway job for him. "Transporter 2" is so lightweight and frivolous, it makes one of Roger Moore's Bond epics look like "Crime and Punishment."

Like most Bond films, this non-Bond uses the same ploy of opening with a scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot, this one involving a gang of carjackers trying to heist Frank's automobile. Little do they know, no one touches Frank's car. The scene shows us how tough and cool and singularly restrained the fellow is, the "good" bad guy. Or the badass good guy; whatever.

This time out Frank is in America, Miami to be exact, which isn't quite so glamorous a setting as the French Riviera. As the actual plot begins, he's doing a favor for a friend by chauffeuring for the family of an important government official, Jefferson Billings (Matthew Modine), the President's newly appointed drug czar. If it seems a bit of a comedown from Frank's usual line of work, he explains, "I usually don't do this sort of a job."

But nothing is easy for Frank. A month into his new calling and kidnappers grab the family's young son, Jack (Hunter Clary), implicating Frank as an accessory. It's here that Frank must jump into action mode to find and return the boy, save the world, and clear his name. You see, the kidnappers initially demand $5,000,000 in ransom, but it's a ruse; they really have a more nefarious scheme in mind, one involving viruses that will infect the highest-ranking government officials from all the nations of the world. Oh, the humanity!

Does the chauffeuring and the kidnapping of the youngster and the subsequent adventure remind you of another such movie, Denzel Washington's "Man on Fire"? It should. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. There's even a shot in "Transporter 2" where Frank is walking ahead of a raging fire, an obvious tribute to the same shot in Washington's film. Just don't expect an equal level of intensity as in "Man on Fire" because "Transporter 2" makes no pretense of being anything other than a mindless action yarn.

Yet it's got its humorous moments, too. Indeed, the whole thing may have been meant as a send-up of the first film. Frank plays off his tough-guy image in a number of instances to comical effect; even his ordering a pizza is amusing, as are some of his impossibly daring stunts. Somehow, for instance, Frank is able to outrun and out-dodge bullets fired point blank from automatic weapons; he can improvise high-explosive bombs at will; and he can fly his car from one building to another; heck, he doesn't even need a car to fly.

And, needless to say, the villains are more depraved than Dr. Evil himself, murdering anyone and everyone who stands in their way, and a few bystanders for good measure. Alessandro Gassman (the son of celebrated Italian actor Vittorio Gassman) plays the head villain, Gianni Chellini, a typically ruthless, cold-blooded antagonist; Kate Nauta plays Lola, his sexy, deadly, and scantily clad assistant; and Jason Flemying plays Dimitri, one of the villain's lamebrained henchmen.

To counterbalance the evil, there are Frank's fellow good guys: Amber Valletta as Audrey Billings, the drug czar's lonely wife, who makes a play for Frank. However, we know that Frank will have none of it; he's much too noble to reciprocate. And there's Francois Berleand, returning as French Inspector Tarconi, the gourmet policeman who was so charming in the first "Transporter" film, here relegated to the status of comic sidekick.

OK, I know cynics are going to grouse that this movie is nothing more than an excuse for showing off as many car chases and assorted acts of mindless, gratuitous violence as possible, but there really is a touch of heart in here as well; and the movie is never so bloody or so gory that it needs more than a PG-13 rating. One shot, involving a vial of antidote and an 800-ton truck actually made me chuckle in appreciation. Every little bit, you know?

The disc presents the movie in both wide and fullscreen (pan-and-scan) on flip sides of the same disc. The widescreen I watched is anamorphic, yet it doesn't look quite as good as most of Fox's products. The DVD screen size measures a ratio of 2.13:1 across my screen, about average for a movie's whose original aspect ratio was announced at 2.35:1. The image is quite bright, but it's also a little soft, smeared, and glassy, with a lot of light shining back in one's eyes. Facial hues are a bit off, too, leaning a good deal to brownish-yellows. Maybe this is the way the filmmakers meant for the colors to look, I don't know, but it's an odd palette.

The English audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, the French and Spanish soundtracks in Dolby Digital 3.0 Surround. The sound is usually loud, so it isn't always the best thing to have coming at you from all directions. Nor is the sound particularly creative or fun; this isn't "Star Wars." The bass is particularly loud, almost boomy, but it is fairly deep so it may make an impression on the bass-starved listener.

Side one of the disc contains the widescreen version of the film, twenty-four chapter selections, and fourteen deleted and extended scenes. The deleted scenes are in widescreen and run about twenty minutes; they contain a little more violence than what the filmmakers left in the finished movie.

Side two contains the film's fullscreen version, plus several featurettes, "Making of Transporter 2" and "Making of the Music," a blooper reel, and an "Inside Look" at the first chapter in a horror trilogy called "Night Watch." Oddly, while the "making of the movie" featurette is only about four minutes long, the "Making of the Music" featurette lasts about ten minutes, providing detailed information on the composing, editing, and final mixing of the musical track. The bloopers, lasting about two minutes, are not exactly hilarious but they are diverting.

Lastly, the keep case comes housed in a slick, snazzy slipcase, and the package includes a chapter insert. Things wrap up with English, French, and Spanish spoken languages, and English and Spanish subtitles.

Parting Shots:
At one point in the story, Frank outfights twelve men at once. He is very good with a fire hose. In fact, he has everything but a pair of red-and-blue tights and a capital "S" on his chest. If you don't mind action-adventure of the frothiest, silliest kind, "Transporter 2" may be just your ticket. One thing's sure: In today's era of inflated, overlong pictures, this one at eighty-seven minutes goes by quickly. Thank heaven for small favors.


Film Value