Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) is a retired special-ops mercenary who now works as an anonymous transporter of classified packages. When the “packages” for Frank’s newest client, Anna (Loan Chabanol), turn out to be two identically disguised compatriots, Gina (Gabriella Wright) and Qiao (Wenxia Yu), he attempts to call off the arrangement, but they hold him at gunpoint and reveal they, along with fourth conspirator Maria (Tatjana Pajkovic), have taken his father Frank, Sr. (Ray Stevenson) hostage and will kill him unless Frank plays ball as the transporter for their bank heist.
Turns out, however, that those four are not the real enemy, but prostitutes who have decided to break free of Karasov (Rasha Bukvic), the crime kingpin who has enslaved them for years, by stealing both his and his associates’ financial fortunes.
Once again, give it up for another mindless action film where the Audi seems to make out like a bandit with the best performance.
Two weeks ago, the Hitman reboot arrived in theaters and provided a very low bar for this similarly-styled reboot of the Jason Statham star-making franchise to clear. Did we need a reboot? Honestly, who cares? Whatever, though, ’cause it’s here, this time without Jason Statham and boy, can his absence be felt.
Agent 47 did this film a favor by sucking as much as it did. The Transporter: Refueled didn’t have to do much to outshine it, and to its credit, it does in that in manages to keep me awake just a tad longer than the recently released video game adaptation. Unfortunately, save a few redeeming elements, it still ends up being nearly as lifeless of a dud.
Now, full disclosure, I was never a fan of Statham’s original trilogy. The first two films definitely had their moments, but were overall middle-of-the-road action films. The third was downright atrocious. But if there’s anything that those three films had going for it, it was the commanding, charismatic presence of Statham. That presence is now wiped away with Ed Skrein taking over the role. Skrein left Game of Thrones after a couple episodes due to what he referred to as “behind the scenes politics”, and eventually wound up getting the role of Frank Martin. Judging from his flat, charmless performance, I’m thinking he might’ve been better off just putting up with whatever drama may have occurred on the set of the HBO hit series.
If you’re the lead and you’re being out-charmed by supporting characters like Ray Stevenson, that’s not good.
Compared to the choppy headache-inducing approach director Camille Delamarre took to Brick Mansions and Olivier Megaton took to the Luc Besson written/produced Taken 3, The Transporter: Refueled is a modest improvement. A few of the action setpieces – specifically a chase scene that involves fire hydrants, a great sequence at an airport and a fun, albeit brief, fight in a cramped file cabinet hallway – do give the film a much-needed pulse and prove that this Audi must be the Wolverine of automobiles in the way it crashes into seemingly every damaging object under the sun without a single trace of a dent, crack or even a scrape. However, despite the rare spark they provide, this film far too often slows down to a dull crawl when it tries to actually eke out a narrative or focus on character relationships (the film takes a page from Harrison Ford and Sean Connery’s relationship in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for the two Franks, with papa Frank constantly referring to his son as “Junior”).
It’s not as if I expect intelligent writing from a Transporter film, although maybe a little more so than Hitman: Agent 47 since this film doesn’t have Skip Woods’s name attached to it. This is one of those “You only had one job!!” kind of films, and had Delamarre capitalized on the few action sequences that actually worked, I probably wouldn’t be left wondering…
- How a 12-year-old Anna looks exactly the same 15 years later.
- How the hell Stevenson’s character, a former espionage agent, manages to get kidnapped twice… twice.
- How one of four female conspirators gets shot, undergoes a jimmy-rigged surgery involving tweezers and cobwebs and in just a couple hours seems to be fully recuperated as she’s getting her three-way on with Frank’s dad and one of the other girls (I think they just unwittingly solved the healthcare crisis).
- Why writers Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Luc Besson thought the girls delivering cringe-inducing quotes of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers would “class up” the film.
- How “fool me once, shame on you” trusting Frank can be to easily jump in bed with Anna after she’s led him on how many times at that point (yeah, yeah, I know the obvious reason is Loan Chabanol, but still).
- How many of the Russian baddies came out of central casting’s backstock supply of cardboard villains.
So, yeah, Refueled is twice as absurd as the Melissa McCarthy/Jason Statham farce Spy, and yet unfortunately takes itself twice as seriously as Tom Clancy novel.
The Transporter: Refueled comes alive through a handful of solid action sequences, and a charming supporting performance from Ray Stevenson, but is ultimately bogged down by a flat lead turn from Ed Skrein, enough dumb character decisions to make you question your faith in humanity and a criminal bastardization of Alexandre Dumas. When this film is able to make me long for an original trilogy I didn’t care for to begin with, that’s not a good sign for the rebooted franchise.
I give The Transporter: Refueled a D+ (★½).