Monday, June 16, 2008

Luc Besson delivers the goods: Transporter 2

As played by Jason Statham, Frank Martin doesn’t say much. In fact, he looks and acts much like a younger Bruce Willis, both men oddly capable of making chronic hair loss look sexy. Frank used to work for Special Forces that specialized in Search and Destroy, but now he chauffeurs young Jack home from school to his extremely wealthy parents in Miami. Frank is a man of principle. When Jack’s mother (Amber Valletta) throws herself at him one evening, he turns her down and she appreciates his respect. Mostly, though, Frank drives a very fast and technologically snazzy 12 cylinder Audi A8, so when a bunch of drug-cartel thugs kidnaps Jack, Frank will drive and/or fly anywhere and fight anyone to save him.

Basically a mannered blend of James Bond references and Hong Kong fighting sequences with a French twist, Transporter 2 does not pretend to be anything but what it is—mindless violence stylishly done. The French producer and writer Luc Besson has been making international thrillers for years, and he found a good Parisian action director in Louis Letterier (who also directed The Incredible Hulk). Both men loot many of the fun aspects of Besson’s earlier, films such as Leon, La Femme Nikita, and The Fifth Element to make a kind of Saturday matinee Grand Guignol of action sequences just unbloody enough to fit the ever-important PG-13 rating. If you care about things like characterization and plausibility, then by all means stay away. But if you want to learn the finer points of how to jump your car from a high rise parking lot to one across the street, or how to successfully punch, kick, and then handcuff five armed Federal Marshals in a stairwell, then you will like this film. For Frank Martin, a man who never lets too much blood and action interfere with the professional look on his face or his austere black suit and tie, a typical afternoon consists of jumping his Audi off of a dock and twirling it around in the air to remove a bomb off the bottom of his car with a grappling hook. Or he might successfully chase a helicopter through heavy traffic in a stolen black Lamborghini.

When it comes to villains in the film, it’s hard not to love the blonde, punk, and ultra-thin Lola (Kate Nauta) who tends to have her clothes blown off so she can shoot up whole office complexes in her underwear while wearing red high heeled pumps. Lola likes to flirt with her Columbian henchman Gianni (Alessandro Gassman) as he celebrates the necessity for “brutality and psychotic moral ignorance” when trying to kill off a bunch of American drug enforcement officials using a deadly virus, but who cares about motivation? Just bring out the high-tech weaponry! See if you can spot the theft from Goldfinger as our fearless Frank fights the bad guy inside of a jet as it careens and twirls towards the Atlantic. Is it normal to continue fist fights after crashing your jet into the Atlantic? Then again, is it really feasible to hop from your speeding Lamborghini onto the landing gear of a Lear Jet and then climb into the cockpit? Have you ever tried to chase a school bus in a ski jet? The more Frank Martin succeeds in wiping out whole cauldrons of cartoonish villains, the more humorous the film became. I began to wonder if Luc Besson cynically just likes to give jaded Americans the World Wrestling violence they crave. In the old days his films had more artistic flair, creativity, and characterization. Now, like grim-lipped Frank Martin, he just delivers the goods.

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