This review was updated on August 10, 2005.
The plausibility factor is zero but the entertainment quotient runs fairly high in nimble actioner “The Transporter 2.” Effortlessly transplanted from the South of France to Miami, sophomore installment in what looks like a viable franchise has rip-roaring chase scenes, inventive combat interludes and a beginning, a middle and an end. Slick kidnapping yarn starts off like a bat out of hell and never sags. Pic should do decent biz on home turf in Gaul (it opened Aug. 3) rolling out Stateside (Sept. 2) and beyond.
Scripter Luc Besson’s mind may mimic the “shuffle” function on an iPod, but the playlist that emerges here has a good beat and your eyes can dance to it. Nobody who actually enjoyed 2002’s “The Transporter” is likely to feel let down by current effort.
Jason Statham is back as dapper and taciturn title character Frank Martin, an ex-Special Forces operative turned driver-for-hire who transports things for a fee with rigor and discretion. Frank’s sheer lethal coolness is nicely established in first five minutes, when he removes his freshly dry-cleaned suit jacket before laying to waste a quartet of formidable would-be car-jackers.
Frank’s filling in for a chauffeur buddy, and his cargo for the last month has been young Jack Billings (Hunter Clary), the only son of U.S. anti-drug czar Jefferson Billings (Matthew Modine) and his trophy wife Audrey (Amber Valetta). Frank’s sensitivity and powers-of-observation are demonstrated when, having picked Jack up from school, he tactfully drives past the boy’s parents to conceal their argument-in-progress from the likeable tyke.
Audrey and Jeff are semi-reconciled after a year’s separation. Jeff is out of touch with his son, but viewers are given enough clues to know that Audrey’s a great mom and Frank’s as good at handling kids as he is at out-maneuvering any and all comers from the latest multiethnic sale at Thugs R Us.
Frank promises little Jack he’ll never let anybody hurt him. That’s on Friday. On Saturday morning Frank drives Jack to his annual medical checkup so Audrey can set up a surprise birthday party. But psychopathic hellcat Lola (Kate Nauta) and Russian virologist Dimitri (Jason Flemyng, with a Boris Badenov accent) have neutralized the receptionist and real doc and taken their places.
They’re working for aggressively fit baddie Gianni (Alessandro Gassman). The plan is to inject Jack with a deadly custom-made virus, exchanging the antidote for a hefty ransom from the Billings’ even heftier personal fortune.
When Jack is abducted, the authorities suspect Frank must have been in on it. And, after some very muscular research — including a chase between a jet ski and a bus — Frank learns that Gianni is a very bad man, whose real target is much bigger than one little boy.
Each set piece ups the ante, with Frank’s technique for removing an explosive device from the chassis of his car particularly resourceful. Mano-a-mano fistfight on a pilotless private jet spiraling in free fall (for a really long time) is ridiculous but fun to watch. Moviegoing cats will be jealous as Frank has obviously been issued way more than nine lives.
Comic relief consists of a visit from jovial French police inspector Tarconi (Francois Berleand) who, as in first pic, begrudgingly admires Frank’s discipline and professionalism even if he’s deduced the Brit’s not living entirely off his military pension. Besson plays to the international gallery with a few funny digs at French stereotypes.
Thesping is more than acceptable for this kind of genre fare. Gassman, photographed to tower over Statham, makes a truly creepy villain. Nauta is effectively slutty as the literally killer babe who feels overdressed in anything more than a garter belt and see-through bra and who hates to go more than an hour without icing somebody.
Statham continues to convince as the enigmatic but resolutely can-do Frank. Final line of dialogue implies he’ll be back.
Locations brim with industrial menace, and tech work is fine, with helmer Louis Leterrier (“Danny the Dog” aka “Unleashed”) sustaining a breathless but not confusing pace.
For those poised to accuse Besson of an originality deficiency, this is almost certainly the only French pic ever to thank Gov. Jeb Bush in its closing credits.