Sunday, 16 October 2011

Classic Review: Transporter 2

Okay, what to say about 'Transporter 2'? It’s shit! …What? That doesn’t count as a review? Could’ve fooled me! Fine! Let’s do this thing right. Damn my journalistic integrity!

Okay, the original Tansporter film was a good, low budget and fairly obscure film that probably crept under a lot of people’s radars. I know it originally did mine. Then, recently there was 'Transporter 3', a big budget sequel that was very polished and, honestly, pretty damned epic. So you’d expect Transporter 2 to fall somewhere between the two. Isn’t that right Lex Luthor from ‘Superman Returns’…?

But why does it suck so much? I mean I’ve given it a fair chance. Hell, I’ve given it three chances! At first I didn’t like 'Crank' either, but after realising that it wasn’t meant to be taken as seriously as I expected, I went back to it. I watched it again in the right mind set. I gave it a second chance, and for my trouble I discovered that I actually enjoyed it.
But this…This piece of crap! I’ve watched it once and been disappointed. Like 'Crank', I gave it a second chance, and watched it before I went to see 'Transporter 3' at the cinema. Still I was disappointed. I watched it a third time for this review. It’s still shit-awful! No matter what mind set you're in, this is not a good film. Let’s take a look at why:
'Transporter 2' starts off showing a lot of potential. The first scene where a group of thugs attempting to car-jack Frank is fun. Anybody who’s seen the first film knows exactly how this is gonna end up. And they capture Frank’s character perfectly in it. We have what are possibly, and very sadly, the best lines--- Hell the only good lines---of the film in this sequence. Seriously, sit back, and enjoy the best bit of 'Transporter 2':

That’s right, we’ve seen the best bit and the credits have barely rolled. This scene is full of so many nice little touches, like Frank taking off his jacket before the fight and telling the thugs to "Hang on," because "it just came out of dry cleaning", or catching one of the goons knives before it scratches his precious car. And finally, when the fights done and dusted, he just looks at his watch and complains "Late".
By this point I’m thinking ‘So far, so good, so Transporter like’ and my hopes are high for this sequel. But then comes the plot. And there’s the rub! This film attempts to have an actual plot. A. Plot!
Okay, let’s go back to the first film. Now, I’m probably being sexist here but what the hell, it doesn’t usually stop me. So any chicks too offended to read the rest of this review can get their asses back to the kitchen and make me a san'wich instead.
For the most part 'The Transporter' is the kind of film you could watch while eatin’ a steak, washed down with a beer holdin’ a power tool in one hand and aiming a semi-automatic weapon at a young deer with the other. A proper bloke film--- and they know it! Fast cars, guns, kick ass fight scenes and explosions. There was no pretence otherwise. This was brain on hold popcorn entertainment.
That isn’t to say it was badly written. Not at all. There was a nice, interesting interplay between Frank and Inspector Tarconi, and hints of both Franks past and the human side of his character. But these were all secondary and didn’t distract from the fact that this was basically a film in which Frank drove a car very, very fast and kicked a great deal of ass. They were subtle touches and not forced down our throats. We weren’t for example—Oh—I don’t know--- forced to endure scenes of him playing guessing games with a kid. Why not? Because this was ultimately an action film.
Hell, the DVD case even has one of the most accurate reviews ever, care of 'The Sun', right there on the front, describing the film as "A montage of epic fight scenes". Anybody buying that DVD knows exactly what they’re gettin’! Again, number three, same thing, just a hell of a lot more polished. 'Transporter 2', has a similar quote from 'The Sun' on the front, as you can see. I can only assume the editor read the word 'shit' as 'stunt'.
This is sheer speculation, but 'Transporter 2' seems to be a response to all the Jason Statham fan girls who insist he should play Bond. The whole plot of 'Transporter 2' just feels like the basis of a really weak Bond film (Think any film in that post ‘Goldeneye’, pre ‘Casino Royale’ abyss) Hell, the only ‘plot’ we need for a Transporter film is as follows;
  1. Frank transports a package.
  2. Frank ends up in over his head. Probably after being set
  3. Frank uses his Tai-Chun-Fu to kick ass and get out of
    trouble by having several fights with numerous goons.
  4. Explosions and ridiculous set-pieces ensue.

Hell, the fourth Transporter film could be Frank trying to transport a pizza across town in thirty minutes or less, and as long as they had the right blend of stunts, extreme driving and some decent fight scenes when Frank has to fend off ninja assassins hired by the rival takeaway, I'd watch it. (Thanks Paramount, I'll eagerly be awaiting my script writing fee in the mail!)
It does look like the writers understand this first! We have the kid Frank is chauffeuring (and playing goddamn guessing games with) getting kidnapped. Since Frank was forced to deliver the kid to the kidnappers the police naturally think he’s actually part of the kidnapping. So it looks like a simple game of cat and mouse…and...erm... dog. Frank tracking the kidnappers while avoiding the police. Fair enough. Nothing ground breaking but it’d be a valid excuse for explosions, car chases and fight scenes. And, honestly, that’s all I ask from my Transporter films.
It’s when the kidnappers return the kid, and use him as a viral ‘Trojan horse’ to infect a world peace summit (Or some such. I really couldn’t care less) that the film starts to go downhill. It becomes Frank’s race against time to retrieve a cure and, basically, ends up saving the entire free world. Let me repeat that: Frank…Ends. Up. Saving. The. Entire. Free. World. No! Just, no! Fuck you 'Transporter 2'! Frank is not the same as James Bond. Frank is not a super hero. Frank is a Transporter. It’s why the film’s called ‘The Transporter’! 'The Transporter is his job title, not his crime fighting, cape wearing, orphan saving alter ego! I know this is a sequel and you’re trying to up thestakes, but making Frank a super hero isn’t the right way to do it.
While I’m on the subject, let’s talk about Frank’s newly developed super powers. Here’s a tip for all you script writers out there, don’t include dialogue that highlights why your script sucks! Such as having a scientist confronting Frank with "So, you want to play super hero..." But rather than stop after highlighting one of this films key flaws he adds "let’s see if you can fly!" Helping to highlight just how utterly ridiculous the next thirty seconds of your life are gonna be, as you watch Frank leap from a window on (at least) the second floor, catching one of the two vials of antidote the scientist tossed, land on a taxi and still have enough strength, and presence of mind, to leap ten feet into the air to avoid being crushed between two cars, and then dodge traffic in a bid to retrieve the other vial. Think I caught all the reasons this scene sucks, but let’s make sure:

Sure, the entire Transporter franchise has been based on a suspension of disbelief, and ‘The Transporter’ and ‘Transporter 3’ both walked the line between that and utterly ridiculous nicely. Breathing in a man’s dying breathe to keep yourself from drowning? Sure, why not? Leaping from one half of a train to another in an Audi? Of course he can. He’s Frank Martin! Driving off a bridge and ending perfectly on the passing car transport, from where you shoot the release switch with a single shot, release your car and hit the ground running perfectly? As unbelievable as it was, I didn’t hate any of that. It was just the right level of over the top ridiculous, and felt like it was over the top to be entertaining rather than solely to make the film feel bigger, better and more extreme!
Which, again, underlines the problem with this film, it’s trying to be bigger and better than the original, but going about it in all the wrong ways. In the process it loses the charm of it’s predecessor but doesn’t possess the glossy finish of it’s successor. It ends up in limbo, and as such you don’t care about it anywhere near as much as the other two Transporter films. I mean that scene has a couple of saving graces, the knife in the leg was kinda cool, and Frank changing his shirt for a fresh poly-bagged one, like Adrian Monk on steroids, is vintage Transporter, but it’s not enough to save it from it’s attempts at extreme drama. Case in point: When did it start raining?! And when did those cars set on fire?! And that soundtrack...ARRGGGHHH! Someone a hell of a lot smarter than me...Or maybe it was Billy Connelly in a 'Columbo' film...once said 'You only notice music in a film if it's done badly'. I think this proves him right. I mean, what, was the biolab set up above a shitty technoclub or something?!

Just look to the car scenes, and their blatant, needless use of CGI and you'll see what I mean about trying too hard to be more extreme! In the chase scene where Frank and the main villain’s henchwoman/hitwoman/hooker (I’m not entirely sure which, and the way she dresses doesn’t exactly clear up the issue) are being pursued by the police, in the kidnapping scene.

Transporter 2’s henchwoman/hitwoman/hooker
I’m not sure if she’s here to shoot me or my load!

It starts looking like a fair enough effort, nothing too fancy, just like the chase through France in the first film. Until he drives to the top of a multi-storey car park, ‘But…’ I hear you ask ‘Where could he possibly go from there?’ Well obviously he leaps from the roof to the next building. It may not be any less believable than any of that other shit, but this I do hate. It just seems to break the flow of the movie, and say ‘Hey, look how much more extreme we are!’
To further, and not the least bit subtly underline that point, Frank is then confronted by a blatantly CGI police chopper that henchwoman/hitwoman/hooker shoots down in a blatantly CGI explosion (With three shots from a gun that couldn’t shoot through a wooden door not ten minutes ago in the doctors office scene…But let’s not go there). There’s no reason for it. The helicopter isn’t even there to create tension. It doesn’t have chance. It’s just an explosion for the sake of an explosion, which normally I’m a big fan of. But I don't like to feel like I'm being pandered to when I'm being pandered to. Plus, the dialogue that follows… Oh my God!
Henchwoman/hitwoman/hooker: I think we lost them.
Cue helicopter
Frank: Think again!
Cue blatant CGI explosion
Henchwoman/hitwoman/hooker: Thought complete. Let’s go.
Cheesy action movie dialogue is something else I'm normally a fan of, but seriously…! By comparison, even the chicken Kiev line from 'Transporter 3' is fuckin’ poetry! They say that if you give a thousand monkeys a thousand typewriters they could re-produce Shakespeare. However if you give just one monkey a typewriter, a bottle of Jack Daniel's and ADD, you get Transporter 2's dialogue.
That scene isn’t even the worst example of blatant CGI in attempts to make 'Transporter 2' more extreme! You want to drive anybody who’s a Transporter fan insane with rage? Ask how he got rid of the bomb on his car in the secondmovie…Go on, ask them. I'll sit here and discuss with your loved ones whether you had any specific requests for what they should do with your remains. Because this is how he got rid of the bomb on his car in the second movie:

…Seriously! Fuck you, Transporter 2!
Even the fight scenes don’t feel the same. Anybody who’s seen the first knows to expect a few set pieces using props, the scene at the bus depot springs instantly to mind as an example of this, and they do try to recapture that magic here, but it just doesn’t feel right. It feels more forced.
The main cause of this failure is probably their working so hard to say ‘hey, we’re a bigger, more serious more extreme Transporter, which, by comparison makes the scenes seem more slapstick. Most notably so here:

Wait…Seriously…Did he just K.O. a guy with a paint can? I’m sure I recognise that move from somewhere… But where…

When a film franchise tries to imitate Bond and fails, it’s sad. When a film franchise tries to imitate itself and fails? That’s just tragic.
In the interests of fairness I will say that the fight just prior to that is actually a nice set piece, although it’s still slightly ruined by the ending, in which a pipe that we see bend numerous times during the scene, even to a comical ‘boing’ sound effect when it’s used as a whip, is suddenly rigid enough that it’s used to run the final opponent through.
Similarly the Frank versus Shannon Biggs fight, after the point with Frank's diving punch while wearing the watermelon boxing gloves (God you have no idea how much I wish that was a typo!), is also quite good, although it is let down a little by shaky camera angles.
'It says here I'm wearing watermelon boxing gloves. Is that a---'
'No, Jason. It's not a typo.'
The scene with Frank making his escape from the house while taking out the police guards is another part that’s actually well handled, and probably the only other fight scene bit of the film that isn’t ultimately let down by something ridiculous (Watermelon boxing gloves?!). You see, The Transporter 2 does have moments where it does things right and you actually don’t mind watching it. In these moments you can pretend you’re watching the original film.
Sadly they’re too few and far between, and don’t last too long before the film does so many more things wrong that you’ll probably totally forget about them quicker than ADD monkey does the twenty digitcombination to release him from the cage where he's kept when he's halfway through his second bottle of Jack Daniels, because ten seconds later it'll do something ridiculous to make you totally forget.

Like try to imitate Bond. Badly! I like to imagine the script session for when Frank chases a bus on a jet ski (…Again, not a typo. You read that right. He chases a buson a jet ski!) probably went as follows:
"ooohhh ohhh ohh aggggghhh"
"Quiet ADD Monkey, I'm thinking.What else does Bond do?"
"There was that boat chase in ‘The World Is Not Enough'."
"Hey, that’s right Frank hasn’t driven a boatyet. Let’s have a boat chase…"
"No wait! We’ll use a jet ski. ‘cause they’re more extreme!"
"Y’know wht’d be really extreme if he was in the water, but chasing something on land."
---Before they all high-fived and called it a day, went to lunch and spent the afternoon skateboarding and trading Pokemon cards. And here’s the end result of that brainstorming:
Look, they even throw in a Bond-esque quip. "Tryin' to catch a bus"? "Tryin' to catch a bus"?! C'mon now ADD monkey,I know it's hard to concentrate, what with the catastrophic liver failure and all, but put the bottle down and at least pretend to put some effort into this thing! What about the equally terrible, but more original, "Making waves" or "Wait and Ski." maybe instead you could've gone with "Avoiding the rush hour" or, and this is my personal favourite: "Fuck, I don't know. Totally discrediting my film franchise and halving the number of people who'll be coming back for the third instalment."?
And maybe if Frank spent less time staring at jet skis and flags and more time actually… Y’know… Chasing the guy… He wouldn’t have had to do that needless stunt in the first place. I mean how did he figure that running away from the guy he’s chasing and sliding down a flag was the easiest way to catch him?
Also, what’s with the half-assed attempt at a chase from the police?! I honestly didn’t even notice the police chasing him ‘till I ripped the clip for the review. Y'know...My third viewing! No wonder you can so easily forget he's a fugitive in this film, I think the police did too! Here's a lesson for all you potential serial killers out there (I.E.: Anybody who's letter I've featured), go to Miami. It has the most easily avoided police force in the world. That probably explains how 'Dexter' got away with it, too!
You think the dialogue or huge plot holes are the worstparts of the script? Well I have made a damned convincing case, I guess if the whole agony uncle thing falls through I could try my hand at becomin' a lawyer. But before you make up your mind, and it is a close call, look at the poor handling of the characters in the film. If you can still call them characters if they don’t actually have any character. Because the truth is I just don’t care about these people. Gianni Chellini the evil mastermind of the film, who’s job it is to make me despise him is just far too two-dimensional for that to happen.
Look at the third movie. Watch the great performance Robert Knepper turns in as Frank’s opposite number and nemesis in that film. (To be fair Knepper is always fuckin' awesome as a villain, just watch 'Prison Break' and see for yourself.) He’s cold and calculating, but he isn’t this boring, two dimensional cliché. There is an actual interplay between his character and Frank, rather than just talking big at each other and trading ‘witty’ remarks.
But, without a doubt, the most gratuitous mis-handling of a character goes to Inspector Tarconi. He’s gone from the interesting character torn between helping Frank and keeping his job to this comic relief deliverer of exposition. One, or both, of those things is all he does in this film. We never even get to see him interact with Frank except over the phone, which is a shame because the chemistry between Statham and Berléand is one of my favourite things about the series.
But, back to the subject of Chellini, the evil mastermind behind the terrible and quite convoluted terrorist plot. The first time we see him he’s taking on numerous opponents in a training session. A cliché scene that we’ve seen a million times before. So to make it stand out from all those that came before it, Chellini does an extreme leap at the end. All it’s really missing is a blatantly CGI explosion.

Seriously, what was that? Like, twenty feet in the air? And what the hell was that crap with the mask all about?! That move---fuck, the entire fight scene, seems to disregard the laws of logic and physics. And I can't ignore the fact that there's no way in hell that punch connected. No matter how much jack Daniel's ADD Monkey and I share.
I guess this is all meant to be in the back of our mind so when he and Frank finally square off it’s amply foreshadowed how great a fighter Chellini is. But in the final fight between Frank and Chellini on the (Blatantly CGI) airplane that’s plummeting into the ocean…And by now you realise that whenever I say something ridiculous like that they aren’t typos, right? The final battle of the film actually takes place on an airplane as it drops from the sky into the ocean. How extreme is that?!
Actually not very, as said fight is too badly handled for there to be any real tension. The same can be said for the entire conclusion, which is just a montage of cookie cutter action movie clichés. Which, once again, wouldn’t be such a problem except for the fact the entire film has been trying to convince me it’s a serious rival to Bond, James Bond.
Firstly we see Frank speed after a helicopter, managing to keep up with it in his car. During said chase, he skips under a toll barrier, because, evidently he’s too extreme to pay the toll, and weaves through the middle of a live news report on a police chase (Again, I’ll put my hands up to thinking this is a nice touch. It still makes me chuckle.)
Eventually he makes it to the air strip, just as Chellini’s plane is taking off. So he speeds down the strip, catching it up. Again, we’ve never ever seen that anywhere. Ever. Cut to the interior and then back outside to see the car hit a ‘Miami’ sign and explode. This is meant to create tension and make us wonder if Frank made it or not (Gee! I wonder…) and does so just as well as the police helicopter...I mean the boat chase...I mean... Fuck it, let's move on!
Inside Frank (Oh my God! He made it! Phew!) breaks the co-pilot’s neck. No questions. That could’ve just been an innocent air line employee that Chellini hired for this one flight and hadn’t even seen before today, for all Frank knows. Did he learn nothing from the 'nobody thinks of ahenchmen's family' scenes in Austin Powers?! In his defence, by this point, Frank was probably just too pissed at still being in the film to actually give a crap.
As Frank confronts Chellini himself, we get, another Bond moment ( Two if you count Frank's 'clever' quip of 'flight's cancelled' . I don't because it'd just encourage ADD Monkey to write more) as Frank stands square in the aisle, giving Chellini a perfectly clear shot at him! But instead of taking it, Chellini invites him to sit down and share a (notably unpoisioned) brandy. Now before you science nerds break out the cabin pressure argument I’ll let you know that Chellini fires a shot a couple of seconds later, accidentally killing the pilot and spelling his own certain death, sure. But not causing any decompression.

Oh my God! Just fucking shoot him!
...Or me. I don't car at this point.
This is when the final ‘Gripping’ fight breaks out. But instead of being the extreme no holds barred finale they were aiming for, it just seems more slapstick as the two tumble around in the cabin as the plane spirals out of the sky. The choriography reminds me of a horny drunken teen on prom night and the soundtrack could easily be replaced with Benny Hilly's theme tune without taking away any of the drama.
I’ve already admitted to liking some of the fight scenes so I know the 'Transporter 2' team know how to stage them if they try. They just don’t seem to be trying here. Or maybe, as they have with the entire movie, they’re trying too hard. Either way, Frank wins, easily forgettable epilogues ensue, and I vow never to watch this film again. For the third time.
And there you have it: 'Transporter 2' in a nutshell. It could’ve been a good film, if it’s reach didn’t extend it’s grasp. And that’s what hurts the most; the knowledge that with a little more effort, and if they’d have gone a bit further either way; towards being a serious thriller or towards being an all action bloke movie, it probably would’ve been enjoyable. Rather than end up looking like this terrible and unenjoyable mis-match of the two.
But ultimately the schizophrenic nature of the film lets it down too much. It tries to be a more serious blockbuster film that’s like Bond, but more extreme (…which totally worked for ‘Triple X’, right?) but falls back on too many all bloke action movie clichés for me truly to believe it. As such a lot of what would’ve worked for 'The Transporter' ends up failing miserably for 'Transporter 2'.
That’s a shame, because there’re still a few good moments, and nice touches that I’ve mentioned, and some of the charm of the original is still present. But it’s all buried far too deep, and under too many poorly considered attempts to be bigger, better and more extreme than the first film. Ultimately there’s not enough of them to make it worth watching, so watch the other two, and avoid this one like the deadly air borne virus that is the start of it’s own undoing.

Better than:
The Happening

Worse than:
The Transporter
Transporter 3

Watching a drunken monkey with ADD try to type Shakespeare

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