THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


We live in a strange time where the box office take of a movie is not necessarily a signifier of its success. When it was released in 2002, The Transporter went largely unnoticed by American audiences, grossing an unimpressive $25 million. However, the film was an international hit and, here in the States, people seemed to find it on video or DVD. Ultimately it gained enough popularity to warrant a sequel, Transporter 2.

Jason Statham returns as Frank Martin, a guy who is paid to deliver questionable goods safely from one place to another. The movie opens with Frank in semi-retirement. As a favor to a friend, he has taken on a job driving little Jack Billings, the son of a high-ranking drug enforcement official (Matthew Modine). The guy’s wife, Audrey (Amber Valetta), seems to have a bit of a crush on Frank, especially since he’s a lot nicer to her son than her husband is.

Things seem to be pretty uneventful until Jack is kidnapped by a group of multi-national punks. They have been hired by a Columbian drug cartel to inject Jack with a deadly virus which he can then spread to his father. The ringleader is Gianni (Alessandro Gassman), a ruthless killer. His right-hand man is actually a woman: Lola (Kate Nauta), who only ever wears lingerie. (Interestingly, no one seems to find this odd, even when she’s standing in the middle of the street brandishing a semi-automatic weapon in each hand.) Frank is naturally the only person who can stop the kidnappers and return Jack to his parents.

The first Transporter had action scenes that were over the top; Transporter 2 has action scenes so far over the top that you can’t even see the top anymore. In one of the more memorable moments, Frank jumps a car from the top of an elevated parking garage. He lands – safely – on a lower level of a neighboring parking garage, with no damage to the automobile. Later, he jumps from a speeding car onto an airplane that is taking off. I thought those old Wile E. Coyote cartoons defied the laws of physics, but they look realistic compared to what goes on here.

I don’t mind exaggerated action sequences (in fact, I kind of like them) but Transporter 2 doesn’t surround them with anything else. The plot is quite absurd and nonsensical. There is a deadly virus contained in a syringe, and of course there is also an antidote. Frank must chase both around while being shot at by the lingerie chick, spinning his car through the air like a corkscrew, and fighting off hordes of goons all by himself. The scenario is so far removed from reality that this might as well be a science-fiction movie. The kidnapping plot could have been played with slightly more realism. I mean, come on – using a child to spread a deadly virus to the nation’s top drug czar?

The characters are even worse. I really like Jason Statham, who projects a cool confidence as Frank. He’s a legitimate action star. Everybody else is dull as dishwater. What is Matthew Modine (a fine actor, no doubt) doing in a thankless, barely-there role? He’s way too good for this kind of thing. Amber Valletta (a former supermodel who also appeared in Hitch) continues to exude almost zero screen presence. The villains are dull too – even the one who trots about in her underwear the whole time.

Speaking of which, Transporter 2 has some scenes that are supposed to be funny (and are) but it also has some that are unintentionally funny. My mind boggled when Gianni told Lola to “get dressed” in preparation for battle with Frank. The girl wears lingerie all the time; she’s never dressed!

To be fair, Transporter 2 might satisfy hardcore fans of the original. For everyone else, it’s a mixed bag. The action scenes are silly but fun, and Statham is a blast to watch. I was moderately amused by the picture, although I left wanting a more interesting story and better villains. That’s pretty much how I felt about the original too. The Transporter pictures have got a good premise, a terrific star, and a desire to provide mile-a-minute action. What they don’t have is a solid center around which to revolve all this stuff.

( out of four)

Transporter 2 is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, sexual content, partial nudity and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.

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