The Transporter Refuelled (2015)

aka The Transporter Refueled

2016 #166
Camille Delamarre | 96 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | France, China & Belgium / English, Russian & French | 15 / PG-13

The Transporter RefuelledI kind of knew The Transporter Refuelled was going to be bad before I even began, but I watched it anyway because, well, I watched the first three Transporter movies and I really liked one of them, so… It’s just the completist in me, really; though why I was able to ditch Transformers when they semi-rebooted after three films and not this I don’t know. Possibly because the Transporter films have never been good, just entertaining trash, and even though Refuelled’s acting looked terrible and I can’t even remember if the trailer gave any indication of the plot, if it had half-decent action scenes then I’d be passingly happy for 90 minutes of entertainment (unlike Transformers 4, which runs the best part of 3 hours).

So imagine my surprise when, actually, I rather enjoyed it; way more than I probably should have, in fact. I mean, whenever it slows down for some plot or (especially) character stuff, it begins to go awry; but the action is pretty good, with some impressive car stunts and some neatly choreographed punch-ups. That’s all I expect or want from a movie like this, really, and even though it may not be an exceptional example of the form, the fisticuffs entertained me. I’ve certainly seen far worse. It helps that the over-reliance on CGI seen in the second two Statham instalments has been tempered. It’s still used to make us think the actors are in the actual car when they’re clearly on a soundstage, but all the flips and crashes look to have been done for real. Director Camille Delamarre previously edited several EuropaCorp movies, including Transporter 3, Colombiana, and Taken 2, and consequently he seems to know his way around an action sequence.

Like father like sonUnfortunately I wasn’t wrong about the acting, which is indeed pretty shit. Ed Skrein was truly dreadful in Game of Thrones (until he was thankfully recast) but was passable as the villain in Deadpool. As this film’s Statham-replacement hero he charts a course somewhere between those two stools. The supporting cast aren’t much better, with the notable exception of Ray Stevenson as Skrein’s dad, who brings much fun whenever he’s on screen. If anything makes Refuelled work as entertainment away from the violence, it’s the father-son dynamic. I want a sequel just to get another dose of that.

Sadly, poor critical reception may have scuppered this attempted reboot at the first hurdle. True, we don’t need more Transporter movies, but they provide a kind of simple but well-made action charm that sometimes hits the spot. I’d say Refuelled is more-or-less as good as any of its franchise brethren.

3 out of 5

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

2014 #40
Lexi Alexander | 93 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA, Canada & Germany / English | 18 / R

Punisher: War ZoneThe 2004 film of Marvel’s foremost vigilante killer was the Punisher as mainstream Hollywood PG-13 blockbuster*, but this follow-up takes a different route. It’s more the grimy, low-budget, direct-to-DVD, B-movie version of the character; all action, gore, and a conscious lack of class. For some that will make the entire endeavour distasteful, but I can’t help but feel it’s a more faithful depiction of the character.

This is a reboot and sequel in one, Incredible Hulk style: Frank Castle’s backstory has been tweaked, and we learn that in montages and the like, while our re-cast hero gets on with the plot of the film — namely, taking down some drugs importers before they can bring something far worse into the country.

As the hero, Brit-playing-American Ray Stevenson is a suitably straight-faced action hero. His secret-underground-lair-style base of operations has a more classic feel than the block-of-flats origin-story place of the last movie, the kind of simple-but-effective decision that defines the movie’s entire approach. As the villain, Brit-playing-American Dominic West is suitably unhinged. He’s a top-quality actor when he wants to be, making this seem an unusual choice; but he chews the scenery with pleasant abandon. Both Brits fare better than their genuinely-American counterparts from the 2003 version. The quality of the rest of the ensemble varies, but all within the confines of the aforementioned B-movie style. There’s a consistency there that works.

PunishingYour enjoyment of the film will hinge on your tolerance for this level of filmmaking. War Zone isn’t a Marvel-derived adaptation to sit alongside their big-budget in-house productions, but one to rival other hard-R violence-focused flicks. It may be kind of nasty in places, but no more so than other movies of its ilk; and really, if you look at it from outside the confines of sometimes-simplistic comic book morality, the Punisher is quite a nasty character.

As with the sequel to that other semi-successful Marvel movie of a dark-character-turned-blockbuster, Ghost Rider, this sequel takes a grungier tack. For Spirit of Vengeance it didn’t quite come off; for War Zone, while it won’t sit at the forefront of the comic book movie pack, it is something of a guilty pleasure.

3 out of 5

* Technically it was an R. Didn’t feel like it. ^

The Book of Eli (2010)

2012 #11
The Hughes Brothers | 118 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

After last week’s reviews of Priest and Legion, here’s another disappointingly religious action blockbuster…

The Book of EliThe directors of From Hell (what did they do for nine years? Struggle to find work perhaps) helm the tale of Denzel Washington being a sunglasses-wearing loner mofo in a post-apocalyptic America. I really enjoyed it… for maybe 50 minutes, before it gradually slid away, ultimately degenerating to a Christianity circle jerk ending.

I warn you now, this review contains spoilers, because I don’t care if I ruin the crap bits for you. Indeed, I’d say less “ruin” and more “prepare”.

Much like the film, let’s start with the good stuff. It has a slow, almost elegiac pace early on, punctuated by bursts of violence and action. This section is very good. Then it begins to slip into more typical action blockbuster territory. A fake-single-take shoot-out might’ve seemed virtuoso filmmaking in the right film, but here it seems like director willy-waggling in preference to serving the mood and tone thus far created. Same goes for other independently cool things that follow, like the explosive destruction of a truck.

Ironically, one of the earlier good action sequences (a bar brawl… to sell it short!) is included in a beautifully-choreographed single-take form in the deleted & alternate scenes. That should’ve been left in the film. The final version isn’t bad — the Hughes brothers use a variety of static and wide shots to lens all the film’s fights in a way that reminds you that all handheld close-up shaky-jumpy super-fast-cut modern action sequences are inferior to an old-style well-staged, well-shot sequence — but if they’d had the restraint not to intercut some sequence-extending close-ups they would have had a massively more memorable sequence.

Robin HoodThe music is by Atticus Ross, which was interesting because I’d thought it was reminiscent of The Social Network. So that’s nice.

There are nice, subtle CG effects (I presume) for much of the film, making the world brown-grey and bleak with green-tinged clouds… but all that is ditched for the digitally stitched together ‘single take’ gunfight and, even more so, a vision of a desolate San Francisco during the closing minutes. It’s decent enough in itself — I’ve seen worse — but like, say, the ‘vampires’ in I Am Legend, it’s jarring and awkward because it doesn’t fit with the tone and style established elsewhere.

A bit like Mila Kunis, who is kinda fine but also an acting weak link. Washington and Gary Oldman (especially) are as great as ever. After years of Harry Potter, Batman and recently Tinker Tailor, it’s quite nice to see Oldman back as a villain! He knows how to pitch it perfectly, and while the lack of out-and-out crazy means this one isn’t as memorable as Leon’s Stansfield (well, who is?), it fits the film like a glove. It can’t withstand the blockbusterised let’s-go-get-’em second half, but then not much can. Certainly not the directors’ skills. The oft-underrated Ray Stevenson even offers a cut-above-average lead henchman figure. But there’s something about Kunis… something too present-day and preppy for someone who’s supposed to have been born and raised in a deeply post-apocalyptic back-of-beyond world. She’s nowhere near rough enough.

Old-villainLate on the film pulls out surprise appearances from Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour. Their roles aren’t even close to needing thesps of such calibre though — they appear fleetingly, the actors underused. Particularly Gambon, who really has nothing to do except fire a gun. I know it’s usually a joke to comment that a usually-better cast member must have needed the money, but that’s the only reason I can imagine he’s here.

Worst of all is a pat ending, which doesn’t make a lot of sense in various ways. They really destroyed every Bible? He really memorised all of it? He wasn’t blind all along, surely? Because you assume he is and then no one says so you think maybe you’ve read it wrong but then it’s meant to be a twist that he’s blind — what?! Why is that facility on Alcatraz? Why have they just been collecting for 30 years? For 30 years?! I could go on.

As well as being religiousified to extremes, these attempts at giving surprising twists just don’t wash. To quote Kim Newman in Empire,

Given that the leather-bound tome Eli treasures is embossed with a crucifix, it’s not much of a surprise when we find out what it is…

Eli’s literary devotion is more giggly than inspirational. Frankly, it would be more affecting if humanity’s last hope rested in almost any other book than the one chosen here – Tristram Shandy, David Copperfield, the Empire Movie Almanac.

So, so true. This must be why American reviewers seem to have loved the film, but our more secular nature sees it as Just Daft. Thank God for that.

Let us pray. (Please don't.)Newman concludes that “you can’t help feel you were invited to a party with fizzy pop and cream cake and got suckered into a sermon instead.” I couldn’t have put it better. Eli starts off with the potential for an arty 5; slips slightly to a solid 4 when the standard post-apocalyptic trope of a gang fighting for local power comes in to play; unsteadies that 4 with an increasingly atonal second half; and quite frankly borders a 1 with its sickening ending.

I land on a generous 3, because anything less would be unfair to the good stuff it achieves early on. What a shame it couldn’t continue in that vein.

3 out of 5

The Book of Eli featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2012, which can be read in full here.