Greetings again from the darkness. Hollywood loves the sequel, spin-off, and re-boot because the required level of creativity drops significantly when the characters, ideas and audience already exist. This “safe” approach to filmmaking doesn’t work so well when the franchise heavily depends on a particular actor. You might be able to find a new Superman (that cape absorbs much of the burden), but it’s much riskier to replace Jason Statham in the role that led to his breakout in 2002.
“Game of Thrones” fans (and no one else) will recognize Ed Skrein. He left that hit series to take on this starring role as the skilled driver Frank Martin, who never changes a deal and always delivers the goods (and beats the crap out of people, and destroys fleets of police cars). Late in this film, we do notice that Mr. Skrein must have quietly lifted some GOT props, as one of the more preposterous fight scenes features Viking-type weaponry aboard a multi-million dollar yacht. For most films, that would easily rank as the clear jump the shark moment, but director Camille Delamarre seems to have no regulator on his appetite for outlandish stunts and scenes.
Mr. Skrein is very clearly one fit young man. However, his slipping into Statham’s driver’s seat leaves a void in charm and street cred. We never buy into his ability to go up against nasty Russian mobsters, though he does strikes the necessary fashion poses in scenes with the four rebellious prostitutes … led by Anna (Loan Chabanol). Unfortunately, Ms. Chabanol’s character looks like a knock-off of Gina Gershon and is performed at the level of Ms. Gershon’s Showgirls co-star Elizabeth Berkley (insert groan and dread here).
The highlights of the film are Ray Stevenson, who plays Frank’s dad; the French Riviera locale; and the over-the-top action and stunt sequences – many with (I choose to believe) purposefully humorous touches. Mr. Stevenson furnishes the only personal charm and wit, while also being easily the most interesting character – one we wish we knew more about. The France backdrop is not utilized to its fullest, but there are enough beautiful shots that prevent us from ever feeling ‘soundstage syndrome’. As for the action sequences, two of the most fun include a jet bridge and jet ski … unrelated, but both elicit audience reactions. If the airport scene isn’t quite far-fetched enough for you, perhaps this sequence will impress you: girl gets shot, nearly bleeds to death, is saved by spider-webs, joins in threesome.
There is an ongoing attempt to tie this to “The Three Musketeers” story, but the gag mostly falls flat, as does most of the story. And by “story”, it’s defined here as: car chases, big booms, fight scenes, fancy clothes, sex scenes, car crashes (the effects of car chases), wigs as disguises, dance club girl-on-girl kisses, gun shots, fancy yacht and private jet. One thing that stands out … all of the female characters are prostitutes, albeit victims of sex-trafficking by the Russians. It’s their plan for revenge that drives the story – moreso than the actual driver (of the title). Luc Besson was behind the first three Transporter movies, and he co-wrote and produced this latest. He clearly loves the character, as he has already announced plans for the 5th and 6th entries into the franchise. One may assume that I’ll park elsewhere.