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Transporter 2

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/02/05 00:39:22

"Luc Besson gives us another piece of gourmet eye candy"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Although he is only credited with co-writing and co-producing the film, the fingerprints of the seemingly inexhaustible French filmmaker Luc Besson are all over “Transporter 2,” the sequel to the surprisingly entertaining 2002 action thriller. Example: Many filmmakers throughout the history of the cinema have deployed the trick of giving a character–usually a key villain of some sort–a distinctive tattoo that viewers can easily recognize when it repeatedly appears on the screen. “Transporter 2" uses that same gimmick but only Besson would dare to not only place it on the upper thigh of an extraordinarily lithesome female assassin but also outfit her in such a way–generally in nothing more than expensive lingerie (even during gun battles with the police in broad daylight)–that the tattoo is pretty much always on display. Even better, he surrounds this arresting image (and believe me, there are few images are as arresting as the sight of a sexy racoon-eyed dame clad in nothing but her bra and panties firing away with joyous abandon) with such gloriously goofy stunts and carnage that such a sight comes off as one of the film’s less deranged conceits by comparison

“Transporter 2" is another example of the sleek hybrids of martial arts, gunplay and elaborate fight choreography that Besson has been churning out with astonishing regularity over the last few years. (The actual direction is credited to Louis Leterrier, who handled the same duties for Besson’s production of “Unleashed”.) This film is more of the same with the only difference being that the location has changed from the south of France to Miami. Actually, the locale makes no real difference since all of Besson’s films take place in the same glossy universe where all the dresses are low-cut (and then some), none of the guns ever jam in the heat of battle and the laws of gravity and physics can be temporarily suspended whenever the hero needs to get out of a jam. In this world, the heroes are tough and stalwart, the villains are rotten through and through and the women are either pure innocents or deadly maniacs who think nothing of entering shoot-outs wearing red stilettos so gaudy that they would inspire fetishistic thoughts in other shoes.

This time around, our hero, the astonishingly proficient getaway driver Frank Martin (Jason Statham), is helping out a friend by serving as a chauffeur for the son of a high-ranking American drug-enforcement official (Matthew Modine) and his comely estranged wife (Amber Valetta). However, the child (Hunter Clary) is the target of a group of kidnappers led by the slickly sleazy Gianni (Alessandro Gassman), the aforementioned tattooed lass (Kate Nauta, looking like a slightly more psychotic and slutty version of Pink) and a group of mad Russians and despite Frank’s best efforts (which involve jumping his car from building to building and destroying most of the property that was left standing after the big chase in “Bad Boys 2"), the kid is taken and held for $5 million ransom. Before you can say “Hey, wasn’t this ‘Man on Fire?’”, Frank goes on the warpath and destroys whatever is left standing in order to save Jack and nail Gianni.

However, much as one doesn’t read the Bible for the prose, one does not attend a film like “Transporter 2" for the plot. They go for the quality of the action sequences and the ones on display here are things of strange beauty. Certainly they are implausible–actually, “implausible” doesn’t even begin to describe it–but the difference between the action scenes here and the dull dime-a-dozen sequences in too many recent movies is the degree of pure childlike innocence and ingenuity that Besson brings to them. As many have pointed out, Besson makes the kind of simple-yet-outlandish films that a child might make if he somehow had access to a film crew and millions of dollars. This purity of motive–all he wants to do is entertain and astonish by any means available–is so disarming that when he offers up something that is truly beyond belief, such as the intriguing way in which Frank removes a bomb from the undercarriage of his car, you find yourself charmed by his sheer audaciousness (it feels like the kind of thing that an especially spirited kid might come up while playing with his toy cars) instead of annoyed by the possible insult to your intelligence.

The other thing that separates his action scenes (expertly staged here by Corey Yuen) is the grace and efficiency with which they have been designed and executed. Every fight here is a marvel of choreography–each is clearly put together with a respect for spatial design that is a far cry from the sloppily executed messes that too often pass for action scenes today–and finds clever ways in which to incorporate surrounding props into the festivities in a manner that seems almost effortless. Throughout, such items as melons, hoses, syringes, beaded curtains, paint cans and works of art are deployed as weapons with the same kind of ease that Fred Astaire used to show when he would dance with an inanimate object. In fact, watching the show-stopping ballets of brutality on display here (many of which are surprisingly strong considering the PG-13 rating) that I became more convinced than ever that Besson should finally look deep into his heart and admit once and for all that what he really wants to do is direct a full-scale musical.

“Transporter 2" isn’t perfect by any means. The opening scenes, though they move quickly enough, are draggy even by clunky-action-movie-exposition standards. One character from the original, a genial French police inspector (Francois Berleand) has been awkwardly stuck in for no good reason and serves as a distraction. Worst of all, someone apparently forgot to inform Matthew Modine that the best way to approach acting in a Besson film is to chew the scenery without apology (as Gary Oldman did in “Leon” and “The Fifth Element”)–instead, he goes about his work here as if he thinks he is in a serious movie and he comes off so badly that he winds up looking like a lesser actor than model-turned-actress-turned-model Valetta. And yet, this is a film that moves along at such a breathless pace that such dud moments never linger long enough to serve as more than minor distractions from the other pleasures on display.

Should you see “Transporter 2,” especially at a time when you could be spending your time watching the more legitimately artistic likes of “2046,” “The Constant Gardener” or “Broken Flowers”? Well, those are legitimately great films while “Transporter 2" is essentially just 80-odd minutes of gourmet eye candy. And yet, it is eye candy on such an elevated level that I would like to believe that those moviegoers who yearn to be astonished and are willing to sit through works of a less-than-profound nature to get that feeling are likely to have a blast with this film. Besides, how can you possibly resist a film whose climactic fight sequence manages to somehow work in homages to the varied likes of “Goldfinger,” “The Right Stuff” and “Royal Wedding”?

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