He's got a special delivery

Movie Review

October 11, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

As Bacon, the small-time scam artist in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Jason Statham was a fellow who worked comically hard to be a hard guy. As Frank Martin, aka The Transporter, Statham is one cool customer - he keeps all his energy coursing beneath the surface.

A former Special Forces operative who lives in weird Spartan luxury on the French Mediterranean, Martin offers super-swift automotive transport of goods or people, no questions asked, for the right price. Statham brings an actor's craft and a budding star personality to the role; he gives a clean performance in the slovenly genre of the espionage cum carnage film. If there's any justice, it will bring him more lucre and far more acclaim than Vin Diesel got for XXX.

The director, Cory Yuen, the producer-writer, Luc Besson, and Besson's co-writer, Robert Mark Kamen, who previously teamed on the top-flight Jet Li vehicle Kiss of the Dragon, are themselves savvy pros when it comes to delivering packages. They turn a martial-arts vehicle into a guessing game: How human is this sleek transporter anyway?

They make us root for the transporter before we get to know him, but don't let us get to know him all that well. Martin is a man with a code, and his code is strictly pragmatic: "Never change the deal. No names. Never look in the package." We're drawn to him simply because Statham convinces us that there is a line he won't cross, and that his conscience is clear. The movie, of course, is about what happens when Martin ends up breaking all his rules for the sake of his latest package - an Asian beauty named Lai (Shu Qi) - and uncovering a thriving slave trade.

Like Kiss of the Dragon, The Transporter colors a skimpy storyline with the performers' chemistry and energizes it with a series of startling action sequences. Shu Qi blends sweetness and the strength-of-those-whose-hearts-are-pure with an element of the put-on artist; she makes it fun to see Lai momentarily break Martin's concentration. Francois Berleand lends an ultimate Gallic omniscience to the part of a police detective who, like us, grows fonder of Martin than he probably should.

In Kiss of the Dragon, director Yuen succeeded in creating one battle royal after another that didn't over-rely on special effects yet didn't stint on momentum and jaw-dropping surprise. He made you believe Jet Li was just this side of super-human. Here, the action is so relentless and the pace so supercharged that you can't savor Statham's virtuosity the same way. The funniest bit of combat is also the most satisfying: a fight that's no-holds-barred because no one can grab hold of anything. It takes place on a floor covered with oil.

Still, The Transporter is a cut above this genre's usual industrial sludge, even when the chops and kicks are too fast to follow.

Transporter

Starring Jason Statham and Shu Qi

Directed by Cory Yuen

Rated PG-13

Released by 20th Century Fox

Time 92 minutes

SUN SCORE * * 1/2

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