The Transporter (2002)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #94

Rules are made to be broken.

Country: France & USA
Language: English, French & Mandarin
Runtime: 92 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 11th October 2002 (USA)
UK Release: 17th January 2003
First Seen: DVD, c.2003

Stars
Jason Statham (Snatch., Crank)
Shu Qi (The Storm Riders, The Assassin)
Matt Schulze (Blade II, Fast Five)
François Berléand (Au Revoir Les Enfants, The Chorus)

Directors
Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Now You See Me)
Corey Yuen (The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk, DOA: Dead or Alive)

Screenwriters
Luc Besson (Léon, Lucy)
Robert Mark Kamen (The Karate Kid, Taken)

The Story
Frank Martin is “The Transporter”, a driver for hire who moves people and goods, no questions asked. He never looks inside the package… until, on one job, the package moves. Finding a young woman gagged inside, Frank winds up embroiled in her rescue from some very bad men.

Our Hero
Frank Martin, expert driver (he’s the titular transporter after all) and martial artist, as handy with his fists as he is with a steering wheel. Lives by a simple set of rules… which he breaks, because it’s a movie and it needs a plot.

Our Villain
Darren “Wall Street” Bettencourt, an American gangster who initially hires Frank, then tries to kill him — even though he did a good job! And you thought people who left unnecessarily low feedback on eBay were a pain.

Best Supporting Character
Inspector Tarconi, the local police detective who’s on to Frank but can’t prove anything. Comes through in the end, becoming Frank’s ally in the sequels.

Memorable Quote
“Rule #1: never change the deal.” — Frank

Memorable Scene
Oil everywhere + people wanting to fight = ingeniously slippery combat. Seriously, that one scene is the main reason the entire film is here.

Technical Wizardry
Jason Statham did most of his own stunts, fighting, and driving. That included learning martial arts to supplement his kickboxing abilities and, for one sequence, actually hanging off the bottom of a truck with just a wire up his leg for safety.

Letting the Side Down
The trailer showed Frank deflecting a missile with a tea tray. A missile. With a tea tray. It was removed from the final cut because Statham didn’t think audiences would believe it, but c’mon, this is an action movie, and that’s silly-awesome. I mean, deflecting a missile… with a tea tray!

Making of
The oil in the famous fight scene is actually molasses syrup. Apparently it was very sticky, which is kind of the opposite to its purpose in the film, but that’s movie magic for you.

Next time…
Two direct sequels of typically decreasing quality; a spin-off TV series that ran for two seasons; and a reboot movie last year, which went down badly but I quite enjoyed (for what it was). Plus: a mini-empire of similarly-styled Euro-produced English-language action movies masterminded by Luc Besson, the most famous of which is the Taken series.

What the Critics Said
“Post-Ghosts Of Mars, if anyone had suggested that big, bald, brusque Jase could hold his own as an action hero, they’d have been laughed out of town. And while he doesn’t exactly deliver an acting masterclass (his ‘American’ accent doesn’t quite stand up to the rigours of actually opening his mouth and talking), this is all about kicking ass and taking names. […] The spirit of Hong Kong action movies hangs heavily over The Transporter, most notably in the CG-free fight scenes which, thanks to former fight choreographer Yuen, have enough zing and originality to satisfy even Hong Kong aficionados. […] simultaneously the best (the fight scenes) and worst (everything else) action movie of the year. Destined for drunken Friday night rental heaven.” — William Thomas, Empire

Score: 54%

What the Public Say
The Transporter doesn’t hold up as well on a rewatch as I would have hoped. It’s a bit stop-start and the ending didn’t feel as BIG as it should have been. At the same time, it has a couple of outstanding scenes and no review of this film is complete without a reference to and expression of WTF?! about the now infamous oil-slick fight scene. Truly a marvel of film thinking, then perfectly executed. […] The Transporter is exactly the kind of daft film that Hollywood became ashamed of making — and it really shouldn’t have.” — Steve G @ Letterboxd

Verdict

The Transporter is neither big nor clever. In terms of the former, it’s a relatively small-scale, low-key action movie, not some Hollywood extravaganza; and in terms of the latter, it’s a relatively small-scale, low-key action movie, so of course it’s not been pumped full of brains. Instead it’s pumped full of adrenaline, with a brisk running time that serves up impressively choreographed action at a solid rate, with an amenably light tone in between the combat. It also made an action star of Jason “The Stath” Statham, which I’m sure some people would thank it for. It certainly brought down the average age of participants in The Expendables.

#95 is… indestructible.

Now You See Me (2013)

2015 #79
Louis Leterrier | 115 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & France / English | 12 / PG-13

Louis Leterrier, helmer of the Clash of the Titans remake everyone would rather forget and the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie everyone does forget, directs this magic-inspired thriller — a film all about misdirection that pretty successfully pulls off one of its own.

Four low-key magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco) are brought together by a mysterious, unseen other to stage a massive Las Vegas show, in which they teleport an audience member to a bank in Paris and rob it. But they didn’t, of course, because magic isn’t real. Or did they? So begins a cat-and-mouse tale, as the FBI (represented by Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol (represented by Mélanie Laurent) chase their ever-mounting criminal campaign, followed by a magic debunker (Morgan Freeman) and big-money investor (Michael Caine).

Really, the whole film works on many of the same principles as a magic show: it’s there to dazzle you, confound you, make you guess how the tricks were done. That there’s eventually a reveal and a twist is an end unto itself, regardless of the believability of the plot or the depth of the characters (neither of which you get in most magic shows, of course). Personally, I love magic, and I love finding out the truth behind it, so both of those boxes were ticked for me. OK, this isn’t real magic, a fact only emphasised by an over-reliance on CGI at times; but it plays by enough of the right rules to work for most of its running time.

That seems to have made it pretty divisive, however. Reading online comments, it’s a real love-it-or-hate-it movie, in quite a literal sense — some people properly despise it. Their criticisms aren’t wholly unfounded: the characters are thin; at times it’s unclear which side we’re meant to be following or most invested in; the use of CGI in the magic somewhat undermines it; a good deal of the plot stretches credibility. Conversely, the credibility is questionable from very early on, so the counterargument goes that it’s the whole MO of the film — you don’t complain about Iron Man not being possible in real life, do you?

The biggest flaw is perhaps that of the characters and the issue of whose side we’re meant to be on: at times it seems like we’re meant to consider the magicians the good guys; at others, the agents chasing them. Does the film want to have it both ways? It can’t, either because that’s never possible or because Leterrier and co aren’t up to pulling it off. Nonetheless, there’s not enough time invested in any of the characters. When at the end one of the magicians comments that they’ve “had an incredible year together”, we just have to take them at their word because we’ve not seen any of it, not even a montage. That preserves the film’s mysteries, but when every character is hiding something — or if they’re not, we need to suspect they might be — it’s hard to relate to any of them. For me this isn’t a huge issue — I can live without likeable or engaging characters when the film has other stuff going on — but I know it’s a deal-breaker for some.

If nothing else, the film is slickly made, the camerawork and editing swish and flashy in a good way. Again, some people don’t approve of this aspect, but I don’t quite understand people who criticise it. I don’t mean people who criticise the film for just being those things, people who want it to offer more in terms of character or plot because they think it’s lacking — that’s a fair enough accusation. But why is a slick/swish/flashy style inherently bad in and of itself? Such a style certainly fits the magic world. I guess it’s just not to everyone’s taste.

Ultimately, Now You See Me is no more than an entertaining thrill ride; the kind of film that races breathlessly ahead so as you don’t have time to think too deeply about its mysteries, or its plot holes. Clearly it’s an experience you have to get on board with or you’ll loathe it, but, personally, I was entertained and thrilled.

4 out of 5

Jesse Eisenberg’s new movie, American Ultra, is flopping in the US now and out in UK cinemas from September 4th.

Clash of the Titans (2010)

2011 #23
Louis Leterrier | 102 mins | TV (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Clash of the TitansThe thoroughly blockbusterised remake of ’80s fantasy favourite Clash of the Titans came in for a sound critical drubbing on its release last year, much of it focused on the post-production cash-in 3D applied to the film. I didn’t watch it in 3D so won’t have much to say about that, but I found the film itself to be passably enjoyable.

Firstly, it’s brief — little more than 90 minutes before the credits roll. That can feel stingy in cinemas these days, where we have to pay so much for a ticket getting your money’s worth is important, but at home especially it’s suited for a quick bit of fun. Still, Titans could’ve done with more length to allow characters to grow — at times it feels like a genuinely epic tale reduced to a lengthy plot summary, speeding over the fine details in search of the next big plot beat.

There’s a fairly impressive cast — nearly everyone is famous or at least recognisable — and all of them are massively underused. Perseus’ team are dispatched in various fashions, but we don’t really care because their group dynamic has only been built a tiny bit. And I wanted to care, because there were actors I like and characters who had potential — even if most were built from band-of-warriors stereotypes — but the film didn’t do enough to allow me to. Every time it produces a good bit, it throws in some groan-inducing sentiment or cheesily pompous dialogue.

FiiightWhat the film is built to do is provide action sequences, though these are passable and rarely more. They’re fine while they’re happening, but pretty much forgotten after — none of it shows a great deal of inspiration. The history of film is littered with far worse examples, but that’s about the best I can say. I can see why it would be painful in 3D too: quite aside from the use of always-criticised post-conversion, and the apparent rush job on that, Letterier favours the modern action style of handheld jiggly shots and fast cuts, neither of which lend themselves to the 3D experience. Heck, even Michael Bay acquiesced to adapt his similar style when shooting Transformers 3 in 3D, so you know it must be true.

In fact, the action sequences would probably benefit from the expansion of character I mentioned before: caring about them would add jeopardy when their lives are in danger and some emotional impact when they snuff it. As it stands, Titans is an emotionally empty experience, much more so than, say, Inception, which was frequently criticised for similar shortcomings. In fairness, this is probably because critics thought Inception might deliver in such respects, while no one expected a pre-summer blockbuster like Titans to bother. And they were right to an extent, but while it’s never going to be an affecting human drama, it should bother more than it does.

The FerrymanDesign is probably the film’s strong point, particularly sequences that feature the three witches and the ferryman. Clearly these dark, borderline-horror-film settings are the design team’s strongpoint. Elsewhere, the gods have an appealingly retro lens-flared-silver-armour look about them — I don’t remember the ’80s original very well, but one could imagine this iteration of the gods being dropped in without anyone noticing.

The CGI is complaint free, as with most well-budgeted modern flicks, apart from one glaring exception: Medusa looks almost as fake as the Rock’s Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns, which you may remember was lambasted even at the time — “the time” now being ten years ago. Oh dear. Maybe the passing years and abundance of CGI has affected my critical faculties here — that is to say, maybe side by side this Medusa would look a lot better than the decade-old Scorpion King — but, in the context of the rest of the film, that level of distracting fake-ness sprang to mind.

I’m laying into it almost as much as anyone now, but in spite of all that I sort of quite liked Clash of the Titans. It’s massively flawed in many areas, but good bits occasionally shine through. Unlike most blockbusters of the past few years, which tend to be bloated affairs in need of a good chop down, it would actual benefit from being a bit longer — Dear Godssome plot elements could do with greater clarity, most of the characters could do with some depth.

It’s probably all the studio’s fault for forcing major last-minute changes and reshoots. While I wound up enjoying what we got, the other version — as detailed by CHUD.com — does sound more interesting.

3 out of 5