Those sleek and trashily enjoyable Euro-actioners that all vaguely star Liam Neeson seem so easy to make. After all, professional enfant terrible Luc Besson alone is responsible for like two of them every year. It’s somewhat surprising then to realize even this very specific type of film is an art unto itself and not nearly every try hits the mark. While Besson’s own directorial stint Lucy was a bona-fide guilty pleasure and Neeson-vehicles like Run All Night or Non-Stop (which Besson was, rather incredibly, not involved with) also had their moments, Taxi 4 and Taken 3, both written and produced by him, had little gas of their respective series left in them and were painful to sit through.
So one approaches The Transporter Refueled, a reboot of another brainchild of Besson’s that has spawned three previous films and made Jason Statham a star, with understandable caution. Well, the good news is it’s not quite the flat-out bomb like the ones cited above. The bad news is it’s still far from the best of what this genre has to offer.
Replacing Statham in the driver’s seat is the equally hunky Skrein, whose rugged looks and lithe movements make the casting choice an obvious one, although he lacks that air of eminent menace which really gave this character its teeth. Playing his mysterious, devilishly good-looking employer, Chabanol is just as easy on the eyes, if even less convincing as the femme fatale whose revenge scheme the transporter and his father get dragged into. Together these two chiseled and curvy specimens make for an undeniably hot onscreen pairing, but their strictly two-dimensional presence might be more fitting for a perfume commercial than a full-blown motion picture.
Without wanting to sound too critical of the plot – because let’s face it, no one’s in this for the story – some of the scenarios Besson & Co. came up with here go beyond the coolly simplistic to the jarringly rudimentary. How four girls plan to take down a Russian crime boss by stealing from his buddies and planting it on him seems foolishly suicidal the moment it becomes apparent. And the bits where the characters try to demonstrate their smarts by carrying out operations in disguise or playing doctor while explaining their every outlandish and dubious move look like unintentional parodies of Mission: Impossible or MacGyver. As for epic action sequences, which the film is supposed to deliver, the requisite daredevil stunts are there, leaving a trail of havoc in their wake. But while the speed and mayhem would keep hardcore fans happy, they never add up to anything truly original, extraordinary, satisfying. There’s some exaggerated, Jackie Chan-esque slapstick fight choreography that’s fun to watch, but in terms of the series’ trademark car chases, hardly anything memorable.
The Transporter Refueled | Directed by Camille Delamarre (USA 2015) with Ed Skrein, Loan Chabanol, Ray Stevenson. Starts September 3