The Transporter (2002)
Ah, The Transporter. The first Statham movie I ever saw and pretty much his definitive movie. It's all the more impressive given I now know that, outside of Mean Machine, he effectively had no action pedigree to suggest that he could carry the lead in this type of film. As with Mean Machine, we're again asked to believe he's this complete bad-ass and we can completely accept that due to a brilliant character setup. From the opening bank robbery escape gambit, he's shown as completely calm and in control, with the nervous bank robbers providing the perfect contrast. We next see find that he has a moral code with the compassion he shows to the kidnapped girl. Shortly after that, we see what a hand-to-hand badass he is with the weaponless assault on Pathetic Bad Guy's house. The best part is that all of this is handled with zero exposition, we're just shown it and we believe it because of how well Statham acts the part.
It certainly doesn't hurt that he did most of his own driving and the majority of his own stunts. One of the more well-rounded performances I've seen in any movie and I think this would have been a smash hit and complete classic if not for 3 little details:
1) The damsel in distress sucks. She's beautiful and I'll cut her slack for not acting in her native language, but she's not at all good. She's actually given a decent role for a female in an action movie but fails to make use of it and is a distraction in nearly every scene.
2) The bad guys really suck. Pathetic Bad Guy isn't even up to the standards of the throwaway villains in a Jackie Chan movie. There was the potential for that role to be amusing, but not with that actor. Asian Kenny Rogers as the girl's father is a complete farce and distraction, more so than the girl if that's possible. It'd be one thing if that was done intentionally, but given how solid the rest of the film is, I think we have to accept that he's just horrible. Granted, interesting bad guys are hardly a necessity, but we do need a little more than this to work with.
3) The plot would suck if there was one. This movie is at its strongest before what could loosely be called the plot kicks in. The first two thirds of the movie is nothing but character setup and reacting to events as they unfold. And it's brilliant. Once we're told what's going on with the girl, the movie falls flat and would have been completely anti-climatic if not for the excellent chase sequence at the end. I personally don't really need a plot to enjoy a movie, but imagine what this movie could have been if it had one?
It's a testament to how completely amazing the rest of the movie is that it holds up very well even with all that working against it. Statham is flat-out amazing, not just in his action sequences, but the palpable sense of overall badassery throughout the film. Hell, he even looks controlled and competent taking a break for a sandwich at a gas station. Rather than telling us that he's a mixed martial arts champion or that he killed 23 guys with his bare hands, they introduce his melee skills with the wonderful shot through a door peephole of him doing a flying kick at it. What follows afterward is one of the more frenetic and well-choreographed fight sequences I've ever seen. Excellent direction and amazing timing, particularly during the axe sequence. I'm sure those axes aren't razor sharp, but they're being swung full-force inches over Statham's head. Hats off to the entire second unit and stunt team for their efforts.
Veteran French actor François Berléand puts in a fantastic performance and is easily the best thing in this movie outside of Statham. Their scenes do so much to establish their history without actually wasting time telling you their history. Given how excellent François is, I can't help but wonder what might have been if the girl, Pathetic Bad Guy, and Asian Kenny Rogers had been equally strong. Then we'd have only had that little issue of the complete absence of plot to deal with.
Badassery Quotient - 10
The Statham role and I've never seen someone this thoroughly badass outside of an Arnold or Die Hard movie. He can drive. He can shoot. He can kick you in the face. He can shoot you while driving. He can kick you in the face while shooting you. He can do all of that while looking sardonically menacing with a minimum of dialogue or even just the odd grunt. Fantastic stuff and most of that is down to Statham himself.
Rewatchability - Yes please
Can I watch it again now? Please? Anyone want to watch it again with me? Geez, what a fun movie. Love the direction, love the acting, love watching Statham do what he does best. May have to pop this in again and listen through to the commentary. Definitely watching this one again soon and regularly.
Up next - The Italian Job! Haven't seen this since the theater, but have very fond memories of it. Very much looking forward to seeing it again. Bring on the Minis!