Some action movies hinge on nonsensical plot developments and are called preposterous; some never sufficiently establish character dynamics and are called mindless. But “Transporter 2” blows past such minor infractions, insistent on defying logic, every last law of physics and the basic tenets of respectable filmmaking. But with a charismatic lead and cheeky awareness in its own silliness, there’s something a little lovable about the whole ride.
The budding franchise is built around a gruff Brit named Frank Martin (Jason Statham, “The Italian Job”), an ex-Special Forces agent who drives a sweet sports car and engages in a lot of improbable stunts. In this installment, he’s sent to rescue an adorable little boy from the hands of cartoonishly maniacal kidnapper/terrorist/mercenaries. The aim of these baddies is to infect the child’s father, a powerful politician, with a highly contagious disease.
If the plot sounds cliché, it’s the villains who seem to wallow in prosaicism. The leader, Gianni (Italian actor Alessandro Gassman), is a slick sociopath with a predictable mix of psychosis and bravado, not to mention an endless supply of lame one-liners. His girlfriend, Lola (model Kate Nauta), tramps around in lingerie and stilettos, wielding machine guns and looking vaguely like an anorexic transvestite. The dialogue is ludicrous enough, but first-time-actress Nauta’s tepid delivery makes it painful.
Screenwriter Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”) is no stranger to outlandish characters or absurd plots. This time around, however, he makes do without canny scenery-chewer Gary Oldman or any idea of how to structure an engaging film. “Transporter 2” proceeds in three distinct acts: the search for the boy, the search for the antidote and the search for the supervillain. All three make little sense alone and less together.
Luckily, director Louis Leterrier knows Besson’s script is fancifully stupid, and the movie proceeds accordingly. No credence is given to reality as Frank launches his loaded supercar from building to building, jet skis across pavement and takes down a dozen bad guys with a firehose. Before you can think, “Isn’t it considerate of them to take him on one at a time?” Leterrier beats reason into submission with breathtaking action sequences and a sense of the ridiculous woven through the stunts.
The real savior of the film is Statham, who proves to be a refreshingly nuanced and commanding leading man. His steely eyes, hard jaw and gravelly voice give the unmistakable impression of a toughened James Bond — no martinis, no gadgets — just a whole lot of effortless cool and impressive ass-kicking skills. Statham does seem a little short, though that’s hardly surprising being paired with supermodels (Nauta and the ever-classy Amber Valletta (“Hitch”)), but he brings great screen presence and subdued humor, anchoring the film nicely.
But no amount of charisma, no quantity of nifty fight scenes can dazzle enough to hide a simple fact: This is a really dumb movie. It can be fun to revel in its B-movie cheesiness, but even director Leterrier was quoted saying, “Without Jason Statham, this movie would be a straight-to-video, dumb-ass, horrible film.” With Statham, however, it still basically is.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars