Of course it's silly. What were you expecting?
Some time after directing Leon and The Fifth Element Luc Besson regressed to childhood and decided he'd really rather forego all this character and plot nonsense, which is highly overrated, and focus on the important things in life. Driving cars quickly and blowing stuff up. After driving lots of cars quickly in the Taxi movies, he now adds the blowing stuff up bits in The Transporter.
Jason Statham plays the titular transporter, Frank Martin. We are introduced to him sitting quietly in his BMW, seeming for no reason other than to give the admittedly stylish credits time to pass. The allotted time having passed, he drives off to undertake the day's activities. Four robbers run out of a bank to his waiting car, which would appear to have been inspired by a comic book. Unfortunately their bags are not marked 'SWAG', an opportunity missed I feel. Frank has a problem with this, as the deal was to transport three. As he points out, once the deal has been made the terms of the deal cannot be changed. Even at gunpoint, he is very insistent on this, pointing out the effects on fuel consumption and the performance of the shock absorbers, and he ain't leavin' till one of them vacates the motor. The lead robber is eventually sees the truth in this, and shoots one of his fellow robbers. The corpse vacates the motor at much the same time as the local police force arrives. Martin appeased, he drives off at speed, the police understandably following.
So we have ourselves a car chase. And quite a good one, I thought. Corey Yuen's direction is suitably frantic, keeping up the kinetic energy of the chase as it winds through the roads, pavements, staircases, bridges and eventually passing car transporters. It's quite stylish, although I wonder how much of it was Besson penned. There's obviously a fair influence from The Italian Job here (the driving of cars over terrain's not intended for cars, such as aforementioned staircases), which is easily forgivable. Less so is any kind of influence from the subpar vehicular based Vin Diesel vehicle The Fast and the Furious (the short cut-aways showing extreme close ups of the gears being changed, clutches being depressed and so forth). It must be difficult trying to shoot a car chase, and indeed any action scene, in an age where it always seems everything that's being done has been done before, but outright theft from The Fast and the Furious is not the answer.
Statham evades the police forces, which seemingly obey action movie law #2, all police are inept, especially at driving. He drops the robbers off, collecting his due pay and turning down an offer to drive them further, probably not wanting to be drawn back into the cartoon they had escaped from. He hits the standard issue 'rotate number plates to something different' button (it used to be an optional extra, but it proved popular) and calmly drives off to his villa.
As he finishes off the job of cleaning the robber's blood from his back window, police commissioner Tarconi (Francois Berléand) pays him a visit. There's a bit of the old 'respect between professionals' vibe, as Tarconi clearly knows Martin's line of work, but knows he's never the cause of the actual crime and lets him be. I guess he's a symptom, not the cause. This becomes more important later in the film but here the visit simply serves to remind Martin to keep his guard up. It also reminds us how appalling Statham's accent is. It is later revealed that his character is American. Quite why this means he sounds like a cross between Apocalyse Now's Colonel Kurtz and a bumblebee is never adequately explained. It joins his equally silly accent in the equally silly The One in the pantheon of utterly appalling movie accents. It's also entirely unnecessary for the films 'plot', and so why Statham didn't play the part in his usual accent will forever remain a mystery.
His next job, this time for the improbably named Wall Street (Matt Schulze), provides the meat of the plot, such as it is. It starts off simply enough, a normal transportation of a package loaded into his boot by a goon. A punctured tyre interrupts the leisurely drive to Street's abode. Going into the boot for the spare, he can't help but notice the package wriggling and making muffled noises. He may notice, but he can also ignore. After all, his own rule number three states never open the package. This doesn't last long, and inside the bag is Lai Kwai (Qi Shu). Before you know it he's giving her drinks and cutting her loose to go to the toilet. She bolts, but Statham is ex-military, as is probably common for people in this line of work, I think. Although I've no experience or knowledge of the subject to back that view up. Anyhow, it means he can recapture her with relative ease. Problems arise when returning to his BMW as two coppers are poking about his abandoned car. He does the only thing possible in situations like these, chop-sockeying them, hog-tying them and throwing them in the boot, along with Kwai. A capacious boot is indeed useful in this line of work.
Street seems happy to have received the package, and offers him another assignment. This time he accepts, although Schulze is no less cookie-cutter bad guy than the previous robbers were. Why this job is accepted can only be explained by Street being more sharply dressed than the bank robbers, I feel. The case he was due to deliver turns out to be a bomb. Probably the only shock caused by this for the audience is that it's taken this long for something to blow up. Happily for us, Statham's not in the car at the time. The policemen fair less well, which eventually results in Tarconi having to show a little more interest in his activities. Before this, Statham has more pressing matters to attend to, namely vengeance and a lack of wheels. Both are served by returning to Street's abode, launching a one man attack on the assorted goons and taking off in one of their Mercs.
Which happens to contain Qi. Eventually they warm to each other, as tends to happen in these cases. Not quite classic Stockholm Syndrome, but maybe a related disorder. She eventually involves Martin in a plot to stop her father (Ric Young) and Street importing Asians but the containerload, a fight made a little more personal when Street's goon's blow up his house. Gun nuts will be sent into apoplexy by the thought of the ease of which the goon's machine guns can penetrate walls, and would question the ease at which the house explodes, almost as if it were made of C4. That is if they haven't already left in disgust at the ease at which some of the cars explode. Well, nuts to them. Stuff exploding is fun, and the genre has a long tradition of stuff exploding easily. If you want gritty realism, get a Ken Loach film. While two hours of the depiction of abject misery has its place, occasionally it's nice to put your brain into idle and watch stuff blow apart. The Transporter is by no means the best at over the top gunfights, but it certainly doesn't disgrace it's self.
The fight scenes throughout the movie are surprisingly well done, given that Statham is no martial artist of renown. He's no Jackie Chan, but as The Tuxedo shows, neither is Jackie Chan himself these days. Some similarities are shown, mainly in the use of common household implements vs. guns, axes etc, but also in his use of his own clothes to progressively tie up his enemies then beat them silly. Yuen has a pedigree in Hong-Kong martial arts movies stretching back over 20 years, including undisputed classics of the genre such as The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk and it's sequel, as well as second unit credits on The One and X-Men. While the last two were certainly flawed, the action scenes delivered, as they do here. Any of Statham's weaknesses are covered for well, although he may have faired alright anyway, as the collated goons follow martial arts movie law number one; despite any overwhelming numerical advantage, attack one at a time. Personally, I found this in no way to detract from my enjoyment of the film. If I were after strong plotlines and deep characterisation I'd read some Shakespeare. I'd say part of the fun of brainless action movies is knowing pretty much from the start what's going to happen and how it's going to be achieved. This is not an intricately plotted thriller.
Indeed, pretty much the only criticisms of note I can level at it is that the plot is weak and what little dialogue is there is somewhat weak. Somehow this seems irrelevant. An example of my double standards perhaps, if something like Requiem For A Dream had this level of thought put into it and this level of barely existent characterisation I'd crucify it. However, I wasn't expecting them to be present going in, therefore there absence doesn't bother me. If you have higher standards you will be disappointed, but then if you have higher standards you would have seen the trailer where Jason deflects a rocket using a silver serving tray and have ignored this film from then on.
No one puts up a particularly awful acting performance, and some of the scenes between Berl?and and Statham shows surprisingly good chemistry, given the material they're working with. So, looking at the overall film, we have quite well done fight scenes, well done car chases, not hugely impressive gunfights, rotten dialogue and reasonable acting performances. Even for an action film, this would probably place it in the 'hugely average' category. It's an interesting hybrid of Taxi, The Legend Of Fong Sai Yuk with elements of John Woo's earlier Hong Kong efforts. Arguably they don't mesh quite as well as could be hoped for, yet still this doesn't bother me. I'm now not sure, having to an extent over-analysed a dumb film during this review of it, why I found it so enjoyable, despite its flaws. I'll put it down to nothing (Statham's accent aside) being overly offensive, and appreciation of Yuen's directorial style.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Qi Shu (Lai Kwai)
Matt Schulze (Wall Street)
Francois Berléand (Tarconi)