Transporter 2

(2005) ** Pg-13
88 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Louis Leterrier. Cast: Jason Statham, Amber Valletta, Kate Nauta, Matthew Modine, Jason Flemyng.

What to say about a movie like Transporter 2? For starters, if you liked 2002's The Transporter, you'll probably love Transporter 2. By Hollywood's reckoning, this criterion automatically makes Louis Leterrier's follow-up (to Corey Yuen's original) the perfect sequel. But surely even fans will recognize the casual asininity of Transporter 2...or is it casual? Leterrier and returning screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen plant their tongues firmly in their cheeks and pursue stupidity at high speeds.

Besson and Kamen transport leading man Jason Statham (again playing expert escort Frank Martin) from the south of France to Miami, where he's putting his Special Forces training to use by picking up and dropping off a six-year-old boy named Jack (Hunter Clary). Since Jack's father Jefferson Billings (Matthew Modine) is a drug czar, the boy becomes the target of kidnappers with a yet more sinister agenda: to unleash a killer virus. Or something like that. With lots of kicking.

Transporter 2 has the narrative skills and libido of a newly pubescent boy. The women, clad in revealing outfits, all feel Frank's sexual magnetism. Jefferson's dissatisfied wife Audrey (Amber Valletta) hotly trots after Frank, while a deadly moll named Lola (Katie Nauta) flaunts her raccoon eyeliner, gratuitous lingerie, and stiletto heels as she repeatedly tries and fails to screw and kill Frank (not necessarily in that order). For his part, Frank hasn't much time for love or lust; the ever-lone wolf focuses on vaulting around town and high-kicking bad guys, the better to fulfill his promise to protect Jack.

As the disease-disbursing kidnapper, Alessandro Gassman (yup, Vittorio Gassman's son) flashes his teeth a lot: he's a bad guy who enjoys being bad. "You're the devil," Lola tells him. "I wish," he answers. Leterrier achieves a bizarre friction, an action-movie frisson, by rubbing flat-out comedy against melodrama. The audience laughs knowingly with the filmmakers, but as the story progresses, the improbable increasingly turns to the impossible, and the film—like its characters—spins out of control.

An unabashedly cartoony chase—taken straight from the James Bond playbook—finds Martin commandeering a jetski from a bikini-clad hottie and racing after a bus. Fancy this: a conveniently-angled ramp allows Frank's jetski high-flying passage to the city streets. Unfortunately, the fast-paced clichés give way to just-plain sloppiness in the film's final act. Leterrier reaches a literal height of absurdity when he shows a private jet carrying the good guy and bad guy spin torridly to the earth, then cuts to the characters standing upright in the plane, facing off against each other.

To call Besson and Kamen's supremely lazy plot a parody of action movies is probably to give them a bit too much credit. Nevertheless, the screenwriters are clearly entertaining themselves by tossing around sarcastic comments about the U.S. and France, represented by Martin and his vacationing French cop buddy Tarconi (François Berléand). "This is not a war zone," sputters Modine's privileged asshole. "This is an American city!" Meanwhile, Tarconi, detained by authorities seeking information about Frank, plies the obese cops by whipping up French cuisine in the station house.

As in The Transporter, the finest empty pleasures come from the teaming of Statham (expertly posturing with physical presence and cold-blooded sense of humor) and Corey Yuen, who returns in the capacity of martial arts choreographer. Martin makes unregistered deadly weapons of his hands, feet, and whatever's handy. In one scene that brings to mind comic trick-fighter Jackie Chan, Yuen has Statham let fly with a fire hose (Jet Li's weapon of choice in Romeo Must Die).

At one point, a character explains what's required for bad behavior: "A certain psychotic moral ignorance...But not wit." Transporter 2 pits psychotic ignorance against self-parodic wit, and in a split decision, stupidity wins.

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