As a general rule of thumb, the more a new film imitates, borrows or steals from previous efforts, the less likely I am to like it. That's not only due to the plagiarism or lifting of other material, but also because of the lack of originality, imagination and/or surprise (beyond being amazed by the gall of the theft).
Accordingly, I should not have liked "The Transporter," a high-octane action flick that borrows elements or pretty much entire action scenes from not just one film, but a whole bunch of them. Yet, for some reason, such cinematic looting didn't really bother me that much this time around, and it actually added to the infectious sort of kinetic fun the film has to offer.
Marking the American feature film debut of Hong Kong director/choreographer Cory Yuen (who staged the fight sequences in "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Romeo Must Die"), the film is not without its share of problems. There are certain things that certain characters would not or could not do, and there are other elements that are simply too far-fetched in concept and/or execution.
Even so, Yuen and star Jason Statham ("Mean Machine," "Snatch") imbue the film with such an energetic, rowdy and infectious spirit that you can't help but get caught up in the proceedings, especially if you're an action fan. Amazingly, the film manages to work for those who aren't, and part of that's due to the effective script penned by Luc Besson (director of "The Professional" and "La Femme Nikita") and Robert Mark Kamen ("Kiss of the Dragon," "The Fifth Element").
One can see and sense Besson's touch all over the effort, and it's not hard to imagine any number of the filmmaker's notable solitary figures being the main character in this picture. It's Statham, however, who gets the lead and he's simply fabulous in the part. Predicting whether a certain vehicle will turn a performer into a star is next to impossible to do, but if there's ever a chance of that happening, this is the film and he's the potential next big thing (at least as far as action heroes go).
Following the likes of Matt Damon ("The Bourne Identity") and John Cusack ("Grosse Pointe Blank") in surprising viewers by their realistic (or maybe even actually real) martial arts prowess, Statham is completely believable and is a great deal of fun to watch as the explosive transporter who delivers illegal goods for others for pay.
Also somewhat similar to Eastwood's man with no name and countless others since then, Statham plays the gruff and temperamental anti-hero to a T and is a huge factor in making the film so appealingly entertaining.
As the obligatory female sidekick, Shu Qi ("Millennium Mambo," "For Bad Boys Only") is decent if somewhat stereotypical, and she and her character's interaction with Statham's provides some decent comic relief amidst all of the action and mayhem. Francois Berleand ("Seventh Heaven," "My Little Business") is rather good as the cop who's after and trying to prove that Frank is a criminal, even if some of his dialogue - due to his accent - is a bit hard to understand.
As in many such films, the effort unfortunately fails to produce a villain who's as magnetic, fun or as strong as the protagonist. Matt Schulze ("The Fast and the Furious," the "Blade" films) simply can't do much of anything with the part - which also holds true for Ric Young ("Kiss of the Dragon," "The Corruptor") as another criminal - and that does lessen some of the film's fun.
Despite a good number of decently staged action sequences and a career of holding down a varied number of positions in the Hong Kong filmmaking industry, Yuen does fumble and bumble a few times, particularly when it comes to scoring the film and its action scenes.. For whatever reason, he and composer Stanley Clarke ("Undisputed," "Romeo Must Die") opted for a score that unfortunately manages to diffuse some of its energy.
Nevertheless, those scenes and Statham's presence in them are what make the film work. Few will have any difficulty in identifying the homage or theft from pictures such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (fighting inside a delivery truck and then going beneath it) or "Lethal Weapon" (especially number four not only for its fighting, but also for the smuggled immigrant plot element). Also heavily emulated is the material from most any Jackie Chan film (involving wild stunts and fight sequences with props). Nevertheless, the material is staged well enough to come off as nothing short of infectiously entertaining.
Of course, all of those scenes - often like those in the original films - and thus most of the overall film in general, requires a huge dose of suspension of disbelief to work. Fortunately, that cinematic elixir is in abundant supply and certainly easy to swallow. As long as one can turn off the brain and not expect anything original, the film's energetic, hip and cool aura will likely win them over.
And since it passes the action film test of making one want to drive really fast after seeing it, it clearly succeeds at what it's trying to be. Not much from an artistic sense, but clearly the movie equivalent of an amusement park ride, "The Transporter" is an enjoyable, diversionary experience. It rates as a 7 out of 10.