In news which will shock literally nobody, the dumbest thing about making another Transporter movie without Jason Statham is leaving Jason Statham out of it. There’s a nonchalance to Statham beating the snot out of people which makes assault and battery weightless and entertaining, and Ed Skrein doesn’t have that. Tragically, he’s an actor, in a role which needs a star. It’s easy to see where the thinking went wrong. Skrein is an actor who can do quiet, so it must have looked like he could step up to Statham’s particular brand of taciturn. And then you watch him explain Frank Martin’s three rules of transportation. Statham makes the three rules seem like the simple way to stay on his right side; Skrein makes it sound like he’s traumatised to the point where he wrote to the rules to keep the world at a distance.
Luckily, Titus Pullo is there to save the day while stealing all the scenes. Ray Stevenson continues to be the coolest thing in whatever movie he shows up in. No wonder Frank junior seems so demoralised; it can’t have been easy knowing you could never be as cool as your dad. He’s still cooler than the title character of the whole movie despite being taken hostage twice in the course of a short movie.
Transporter Refuelled shares a weird feature with Hitman Agent 47, another underperforming movie about murdering people; the good guys drive Audis and the bad guys drive Mercedes G-wagens. I don’t know if Audi insist that the bad guys use Mercedes, or if G-wagens have just become a cultural shorthand for evil in the same way Saabs became a Hollywood shortcut for suggesting the kind of intellectual the audience could have a beer with, but suddenly the G-wagen is everywhere I look.
Car choices aside, Transporter movies live and die on, well, transport. How much fun is the driving? Not enough fun. I always know the car chases aren’t working when I have time to wince at the potential body count for the innocent bystanders. One of the best stunts is in the trailer, with Frank spinning his Audi to knock the valves off four fire hydrants to create a skid pan for the people coming after him. In the movie, it’s over in seconds, and then we get to watch the poor schmuck French police break their necks as they come off the motorbikes, which seemed to take much longer than the cool bit. That’s just mounting it wrong; a proper car chase - especially in a dumb movie like this - should be a joyous, bloodless thing where people get A-teamed off the road without a real scratch. Or it should be so gut wrenchingly tense that you don’t have time to pick up on the body count. This being a Luc Besson movie …
Thanks to the decision to hire actors, the movie is ironically at its best when people are just talking to each other, though Luc Besson’s plot-on-a-beermat skills don’t leave them with the kind of dialogue which threatens to dethrone Shakespeare. Nor is this one of the Besson movies which can bolster the occasional arguments that he’s a guy for strong female roles; even though the only people in the movie who know what they’re doing are the female anti-heroes, their lingerie’s got more substance to it than their characterisation. Their interchangeable bimbo-osity is hammered home with the recurring schtick of them confusing the real bad guys by showing up in matching dresses and blonde wigs for all their heists, and for all the effort to show them as manipulating and out-thinking all the various male bad guys and good guys, they wind up being hopelessly reliant on Frank Senior and Frank Junior to make any of their plans actually work.
The game plan seems to be to restart the Transporter franchise without the increasingly expensive Statham, but if they’ve got any sense they’ll start a new one about Frank Senior instead.