We are in deep crisis, people.
Our action heroes have lost their ability to quip. Their voices are shot altogether - particularly after a summer in which two explosion-a-thons, Stealth and The Island, capsize. Heroes put away bad guys today with a sensitive sigh of disgust, a groan of the wounded, a bit of woe-is-you-woe-is-me. It's a rare film in which a hero grimaces and pulls the trigger on his rocket launcher knowing the last thing his enemy will hear is a line of extremely corny dialogue.
"You've been terminated."
That sort of thing.
Perhaps the blame is on the Simpsons and their favorite anvil-jawed action star, McBain. He pumped the genre full of holes, shot it with an air-to-ground missile launcher, ran it over with a tank. Whatever the reason, action heroes no longer slaughter with a twinkle in their eye. Twenty years ago, a Stallone with a toothpick could be an action star, a Schwarzenegger could
dangle a man over a cliff and release him without questioning his morality, a Chuck Norris could land steady employment mowing down armies of extras.
In The Transporter 2, starring the second coming of the '80s action hero, bullet-headed Jason Statham, the quip has come to this: Having infiltrated the bad guy's private jet, Frank Martin (Statham) says, "This flight's been canceled."
To which, the Colombian villain says: "Mr. Martin, I am sorry to tell you that you've been canceled."
It's too wordy, no? But give Statham credit. In a different, simpler day, the character actor wouldn't need personality to be a star. But he's one up on Vin Diesel, because at least he frets over what has become of the action hero. When he tracks the ideally named Gianni (Alessandro Gassman) to a secret lair where plans are afoot to infect the U.S. drug czar with a killer virus, someone makes a dumb comment and Statham says, "Is this what passes for wit now?" To which, being honest, Gianni says, "Wit is not a requirement of my job - brutality, yes, wit, no."
How strange it is to witness a movie critique itself in real time.
But then The Transporter series can't catch a break, can it? The first installment was a surprise 2002 hit; it dispensed with story altogether and stuck with a nonstop mix of James Bond slickness and Hong Kong kinetics, which is smart, but that in itself is a glitch. Nonstop action gets as tedious as nonstop chatter. Series creator, Luc Besson, one of the world's top action producers (and the director of La Femme Nikita), must have taken this to heart. Transporter 2 seeks more balance, but you wish it had more action, and when that slows, you wish it remembered the Transporter's personal code.
Martin, a.k.a. The Transporter, is a clever idea for a hero: He moves things from place to place. He has no moral consideration about his cargo, only a few rules that he never breaks unless the plot requires it: The deal never changes. No names are involved. He never looks in the package. For the most part, none of that applies to Transporter 2, which sticks Martin with the mission of playing bodyguard to the son of a bureaucrat.
The fun in Transporter 2 is when it reminds itself of how ridiculous it is. Consider the following as a litmus test: Our hero is trapped in a doctor's office. Outside the door is a female assassin in a nurse's coat. He fires his gun. She whips off her coat, revealing a pink bikini and two large guns. He explodes a canister of gas, which results in the office sprinkler going off, which results in the bikini getting wet.
It could happen.
What couldn't is just about everything else, and there's nothing wrong with that, but Statham has a nugget of Steve McQueen in him and The Transporter movies never take time to soak in this simple butt-kicking menace.
Statham drives well. He has that thing. His face is ultrafocused, not worried at all, just relentless and quiet and scary, and the car chases in these movies are about as good as they get. But then the car chases in I, Robot and the Bourne movies are as good as they get. They match, at least, anything in the McQueen classic, Bullitt. What they lack, what makes even the most spectacular one ho-hum after a while, is that simple cold stare that Statham has, and The Transporter 2 wastes. From Bullitt to dodging bullets - hasta la vista, baby.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: email@example.com