...each action scene in The Transporter seems to have been designed for no other purpose than to set up the next action scene.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

The first time Twentieth Century Fox issued "The Transporter," about two years ago, they labeled it a "Special Edition," so what could be extra special about this new "Special Delivery Edition"? Well, it isn't the anamorphic widescreen picture, which remains the same; and it isn't the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, which also remains the same; nor is it many of the bonus items. In fact, the only differences appear to be the new making-of documentary, a storyboard-to-film comparison, and a DTS soundtrack.

Oh, and there's also a trailer for "Transporter 2," Fox's next big theatrical release. The sequel is apparently an action adventure called "Transporter 2" because it follows "The Transporter" chronologically and thematically and stars Jason Statham from the original movie. I did mention that the title of the new picture is "Transporter 2," didn't I? That appears to be the primary reason for the reappearance of "The Transporter" in this "Special Delivery Edition," so I don't want to disappoint the powers that be at Fox by failing to point it out. Marketing departments: You can't blame them for trying; it's their job.

Anyway, let me remind you of what I thought of this 2002 action thriller the last time I visited it. Basically, I found "The Transporter" was not a bad film, just an exhausting one.

At least the time passes quickly. At a mere ninety-two minutes, the movie is over before you know it, leaving one with the impression that nothing actually happened. This is easy to understand because nothing much does happen. The filmmakers made an action movie that is just that, all action. There are no messy character relationships, no distracting plot, nor even much dialogue to get in the way of the hitting, kicking, stabbing, shooting, and chasing. Indeed, "The Transporter" plays like an extended trailer for a movie, a highlights reel with all the boring stuff, like talk, left out. The movie should appeal to viewers who want to get straight to the point.

By coincidence, the day before I first watched "The Transporter" I had watched Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" (for about the twentieth time), and that may have had something to do with my disappointment in the Fox flick. What a joy it was to watch a master craftsman like Hitchcock toying with the action genre and spoofing its silliness. Unfortunately, there is no such joy in "The Transporter," which takes itself dead seriously from beginning to end, despite the preposterousness of its goings on. Maybe that in itself could someday elevate the film to camp-classic status.

As I said, "The Transporter" is not a bad film if it is only action you're looking for. It's kind of a European version of "XXX," with British actor Statham doing the Vin Diesel part. In its favor, I think Statham displays more personality than Diesel, and while both men look and act like tough guys, Statham ultimately seems the more sympathetic. You might even say Statham is the best part of "The Transporter." In the few movies he's been in so far, he's shown some good versatility, debuting in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," playing a thug in "Cellular," doing a lighter role in "The Italian Job," and returning as the antihero in, ahhh, (what was the title of that sequel again?), oh, yes, "Transporter 2."

The plot of "The Transporter" (I lied, there is the barest outline of a plot) involves a smuggling ring and a transporter. What's a "transporter," you ask? A transporter is a guy (or I guess it could be a woman) who transports or delivers goods from one place to another, no questions asked. Naturally, the goods in question are on the shady or illegal side, if you get my drift. Statham plays Frank Martin, the best transporter in the business. He's an ex-military man: an ex-pilot, an ex-hero, and an expert driver and martial artist. When the movie opens we see him driving the getaway car for some holdup men. This opening chase sequence is probably the best part of the movie, so enjoy it. The rest is just more of the same but less intense.

Statham's antihero is super cool and super calm, in the manner of all superheroes, and he's super quick thinking, too. Martin is so successful at his line of work that he drives a fancy BMW, has money to burn, and lives in a combination villa-lighthouse on the south coast of France. He has only three rules: (1) Stick to the plan; (2) give no names; and (3) never look in the package. "Transportation," he tells us, "is a precise business."

The plot begins when he breaks rule number three. Hearing a noise from the cargo in his trunk, he looks in the package and finds a beautiful young woman, Lai (Shu Qi), tied up inside. Attempting to deliver his goods, anyway, Martin is double-crossed by the people who hired him, and to get even he goes back, kills or maims everyone in sight, and heads for home, not knowing the girl has somehow gotten into his back seat. We see he's got a conscience when he decides not to throw her out.

It doesn't take long for Lai to set up housekeeping with Martin and to explain to him that her father is involved in a smuggling operation involving people from her country. Martin reluctantly helps her get the goods on the baddies. And that's it. The rest is more punching, kicking, and things blowing up.

In a bus garage Martin out-fights a dozen karate aces who, in the tradition of these movies, obligingly line up one at a time for Martin to dispose of. But don't just shoot him. An oil fight--literally, on a cement floor soaked with oil--proves different, if only for a moment. Additionally, there's a charming policeman played by Francois Berleand involved in the affair, a fellow who could have had the film to himself as far as I was concerned.

The movie is the work of a virtual United Nations of filmmakers. The star, as I mentioned, is British; and the costars are from all over Europe, Asia, and America: Shu Qi, Francois Berleand, Matt Schulze, Ric Young, Doug Rand, Didier Saint Melin. The director, Corey Yuen, is Chinese and known for previous action vehicles like "The Avenging Fist," "So Close," and "The Enforcer" and for being the martial-arts choreographer for most of Jet Li's films. What's more, the cowriter and co-producer is Luc Besson, French, who gave us "Point of No Return," "The Fifth Element," and "Leon, the Professional." But despite this international representation of filmmakers and a plentitude of location shots around France, the film is mostly just another routine, rock-'em, sock-'em affair.

For those who enjoy "Whack-a-Mole" at the amusement park, and that's all of us from time to time, "The Transporter" delivers the goods with beautifully staged fight scenes and beautifully blossoming explosions, plus a beautiful girl and beautiful scenery thrown in for good measure. A person can waste time in worse ways.

As in the first edition, the picture and sound qualities are excellent. Only this time, Fox offer the film in just one screen format, wide, rather than wide and standard as before. For me, not having the pan-and-scan version was no great loss. The widescreen measures a handsome 2.13:1 ratio or so, anamorphic. Colors are fairly deep; object delineation is reasonably sharp and clear; and everything looks very natural, with almost no visible transfer artifacts in sight. In short, the picture looks terrific.

The 5.1 audio is also terrific, with the surround speakers in Dolby Digital or DTS picking up pinpoint accurate noises like screeching tires, churning motors, ricocheting bullets, reflecting voices, and bursting rockets. Needless to say, the bass end is very deep and very loud to account for every visceral sound within miles. Not as pinpoint but still impressive is the musical ambience of composer Stanley Clarke's score, also bass loaded and screaming much of the time with rap and jazz-inflected melodies.

The extras start out with an audio commentary by star Jason Statham and producer Steven Chasman. The two men are less talkative than folks in many similar commentaries, but when they do speak it's most often to add bits of information rather than simply to joke around. Not that they don't do a modicum of teasing, too. "If you look closely, you'll see Steve hiding behind one of these posts." Next, you'll find fifteen minutes of extended fight sequences not shown in theaters, with an optional commentary by Statham, Chasman, and director Yuen. The men tell us they left the scenes out mainly to keep a PG-13 rating. Too bad the filmmakers didn't create an unrated Director's Cut for this edition by adding the deleted scenes back into the movie. There are thirty-two scene selections this time out (but again no chapter insert); a short, twelve-minute "Making of" featurette that plays like a typical promo; a widescreen theatrical trailer for "The Transporter" and one for "Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior"; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English and Spanish subtitles

Among the important new items for this edition is a behind-the-scenes documentary lasting about thirty-five minutes and divided up into various filmmaking departments. It's one of the better behind-the-scenes features I've seen, but if you already own "The Transporter" on first DVD, I'm not sure it's worth another purchase. Another new item is a storyboard-to-film comparison that lasts almost two minutes and can be viewed in storyboard alone, in side-by-side storyboard and film, and in the finished edit. Finally, we get a "Look Inside" at "Transporter 2," a trailer and a making-of describing what promises to be a sequel much like the original, with lots of hard fighting, fast chases, and pretty women.

Parting Shots:
I try not to theorize in these critiques about how a given film ought to have been made, but in the case of "The Transporter" I was distracted by such thoughts all through the picture. I couldn't help wondering if the story wouldn't have been improved by adding a little character interaction and maybe some witty dialogue along the way. Then again, why not as I said above have included the extended fight scenes and issued the new DVD unrated? I mean, it's not like the thing couldn't have benefitted from expanding its present ninety-two minutes into something a little longer.

As it is, each action scene in "The Transporter" seems to have been designed for no other purpose than to set up the next action scene. Watching this movie is like reading the "Cliff's Notes" version of a James Bond adventure. There's no finesse, no subtlety involved. After a while it just becomes numbing, unless it's only action you're looking for, in which case "The Transporter" gets a ten-out-of-ten rating. But for what it's worth, I'd rather watch any vintage Bond film again and get a better quotient of humor, besides.

Still and all, "The Transporter" is basically a non-offensive film featuring a non-offensive and in many ways charismatic star. There's not much in the movie to enlighten or illuminate or engage more than the senses, but I suppose that's beside the point in an all-out action thriller.

And don't forget about "Transporter 2," too. Er, also. Whatever.


Film Value