NOW PLAYING: The Transporter

Posted: Monday, October 14, 2002

The invention of the video tape was a huge blow to the art of moviemaking. Suddenly, films that were meant to be experienced on the big screen with big sound could be watched in our living room, remote control in hand, ready to pause whenever we ran out of cheese doodles. What used to be events, have become simply time-fillers. That said, video did one nice thing; it created a fast-to-market medium for movies that were nothing but time-wasters themselves. The Transporter is one of those, a movie that should have embraced its true nature and gone straight to video.

A transporter is basically nothing more than a courier. He transports things from one place to another for a fee. The only thing that makes him different from, say, UPS, is that he does it "no questions asked," and he's about 100 times more expensive. The film opens on a clever note, with our transporter, played by Brit Jason Statham, sitting patiently outside a bank in his highly customized BMW, waiting to transport a trio of bank robbers to a specified destination. As the bandits flee the building and leap into the getaway car, we note that there are four, not three. This presents a problem, as the transporter calmly explains, because the meticulous planning he's done was all based on a certain combined weight. Custom shocks, tire pressure, amount of gas in the tank, etc. He refuses to move until finally the ringleader shoots one of his fellows and dumps the body. And we're off on a magnificent car chase. It's one you've seen a hundred times, but as the movie only goes down from here, I say take your enjoyment where you can get it.

We are supposed to believe that the transporter is a cold-blooded, unwavering, and consummate professional; not unlike a high paid assassin, except he doesn't kill, he transports. This image is quickly shattered when, after fixing a flat tire, he decides to look in the package (Rule #2: Never look in the package.) In his defense, the person-sized bag in his trunk was wriggling, so I can understand curiosity, but c'mon. Are you telling me this guy's never transported kidnapping victims stuffed into big black duffel bags before? What kind of transporter is he? Anyway, as is Hollywood law, once you break any one of the stated "rules," things go to hell pretty quick. Soon he's on the run from a homicidal slave trader and his corrupt Chinese businessman partner, as well as their multinational gang of toughs and hoods. The girl in the bag (you knew it was a girl, right?) is the daughter of the Chinese businessman, and while it is never clear why they would have been transporting her thusly, it is clear that she's not all that popular with dear old dad. After getting involved with her, our transporter has his car, his house, and his livelihood all blown to bits. The stakes only get higher when we learn that there are 400 people trapped in a cargo bin, destined for a life in chains if he can't save them. So, with the help of his little Chinese good luck charm, and a slow moving, suspiciously congenial detective, the transporter goes to work to save the day.

This movie wasn't going to be good, no matter where it was made, but it doesn't help that it is, essentially, a French movie, or, more specifically, a Luc Besson movie. Besson makes movies (he wrote and produced this one) that either are cool ( Professional and La Femme Nikita) or that only look cool but are filled with such lame jokes and broad, keystone cops style humor, that any cache they might have had becomes lost in a sea of idiocy. The Fifth Element is a prime example, a movie I've long said would have been much better as a silent film. The Transporter falls into this category as well. The bad guys shoot bullets that can go through walls, and fire big, dopey looking missiles from bazookas, but never seem to hit anyone. Many of the deaths that do occur are played for laughs (ha ha), though the transporter himself always tries to shoot them in the leg. It was almost as though they were saying, "Gunplay is ok, as long as the good guy doesn't actually kill anyone." How about maiming people? If you are going to be an action movie, just be one - don't pussyfoot around.

Bad acting, bad writing, broad humor, and lame special effects do not add up to much. The only good part of this movie is Jason Statham, but I think I was just channeling the good movies I'd seen him in, like Snatch, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Instead of wasting your time on this dreck, why not check out a well-made French film? Go rent Brotherhood of the Wolf, a cool movie that, due to the cruelness of fate, spent far too little time on the big screen. That movie will really transport you, while The Transporter is going nowhere. Grade: D+

The Transporter is rated PG-13 for violence and minor language.

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