If nothing else, this reboot of the Transporter franchise should do wonders for Audi sales, not to mention car safety. Every passenger who sets foot in the tricked-out, gleaming German automobile driven by the titular character is immediately ordered to fasten their seat belt. It's sound advice, because The Transporter Refueled is a cinematic bumpy ride.
Arriving seven years after the final installment of the trilogy originally starring Jason Statham, this latest version, inexplicably set in 2010, features a younger, slighter Frank Martin as played by Ed Skrein (Game of Thrones). It's a real diminishment, and not just in physical terms. Skrein moves well and has the requisite model-ready good looks, beautifully cared-for stubble and gruff, rumbling voice that make him machismo personified. But compared to his predecessor, he's seriously lacking in charisma, and his relentlessly monotonous performance fails to rev up the film's engine.
Fortunately, Ray Stevenson is on hand to provide some necessary energy to the proceedings. The actor is clearly having a good time playing Frank's dad - he persistently addresses his son as "Junior" - a rakish Evian sales rep who's not so secretly a government agent. Unfortunately, the character's spy skills seriously leave something to be desired, as the plot hinges on his getting kidnapped not once but twice in the course of 24 hours.
Speaking of plot, what little there is has something to do with Frank being hired by gorgeous femme fatale Anna (Loan Chabanol) and her trio of similarly beautiful, blonde-wigged accomplices. When they reveal that they are holding his father prisoner and have given him poison that will kill him within 12 hours, Frank is coerced into helping them get revenge on the Russian human trafficker who forced them into prostitution 15 years earlier.
But that's all a mere excuse for a relentless series of action set pieces in which Frank demonstrates that he's as skilled in mixed martial arts as he is at high-speed driving through the narrow streets of the French Riviera without running over any innocent bystanders. A man with a strict moral code, he doesn't carry a gun, forcing him to use a wide variety of objects-at-hand to dispatch a seemingly endless series of opponents, somehow managing to never muss up his perfectly tailored suit in the process.
Director Camille Delamarre (Brick Mansions) and his collaborators have devised a few nifty sequences, including a Jackie Chan-style fight scene in which Frank uses an array of file cabinet drawers to dispatch his opponents, and a car's flying leap into an airport terminal through which it proceeds to wreak vehicular havoc. But unlike the similarly high-octane stunts in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, most of the ones rendered here are so cartoonish and divorced from reality that they induce more laughs than gasps.
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Speaking of laughs, there are more than a few in such scenes as when one of the women gets shot in the stomach, prompting emergency surgery using spider webs as a coagulant. But not to worry, she's feeling fine the next morning. It's yet one more example of how The Transporter Refueled is running on cheap gas.
The Transporter Refueled, a Europa Corp. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "sequences of violence and action, sexual material, some language, a drug reference and thematic elements." Running time: 96 minutes.