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Disappointing action reboot The Transporter Refueled is so thoroughly misconceived that it took us a couple of extra days to pinpoint all the ways it leaves audiences disappointed — and possibly pining for the relatively sturdy drive-in/grindhouse-ready exploitation films of yesteryear.
Refueled, a reboot of the adequate 2002 Jason Statham action-adventure, is a klutzy amalgamation of campy spy-spoof Our Man Flint and dopey Burt Reynolds vehicle Gator. The setup is promising: Professional getaway driver Frank (Game of Thrones‘ Ed Skrein) and a gang of blond-wig-and-black-lingerie-clad prostitutes square off with a pack of malicious Russian pimps.
But director Camille Delamarre (Brick Mansions) and co-writers Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, and Luc Besson overdevelop all the wrong aspects of the narrative — it’s overstuffed, undercooked, and needlessly complicated.
Case in point: An introductory flashback — ruthless crime mogul Karasov (Radivoje Bukvic) declares himself the king of prostitution along the entire French Riviera (!!!) after he assassinates a pack of West African human traffickers — randomly takes place in 1995. Flash-forward to 2010: Ex-military man Frank bonds with hard-drinking womanizer dad Frank Sr. (Ray Stevenson).
Frank Sr.’s prominent role is the plot’s most baffling aspect. He’s inexplicably treated like the Swiss army knife of partners-in-crime: Frank Sr. is living proof of Frank’s working-class background (Frank Sr. collects an inadequate pension!); a sadly unfunny source of comic relief (old people have sex too!); and a constant companion (Frank and his dad drink wine and talk about girls!). Frank Sr. even inadvertently kick-starts the plot when lady-of-the-night Anna (Loan Chabanol) kidnaps him so she can blackmail Frank into taking down Karasov.
The action’s not much better. Phony-looking computer-generated sports and cop cars ineffectively double for real vehicles during crashes and sharp turns. Worse still, negligibly composed individual shots are unintelligibly juxtaposed, like when a dashboard close-up of Frank behind the wheel is matched up with a curbside view of Frank’s car as seen over the shoulder of an unidentified patron of a sidewalk café.
That frenetic style is especially annoying during the most elaborate set piece: Frank launches his car up the Nice airport’s runway and through a boarding gate’s connecting jet bridge. That Evel Knievel–esque sequence is so poorly assembled that viewers might expect that the film’s main event is just a preamble for some other forthcoming show-stopper that never happens.
The Transporter Refueled‘s preposterous story wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t also laboriously convoluted. Tedious expository dialogue sinks the film whenever Maissa (Noémie Lenoir), Karasov’s favorite prostitute, literally describes events as they unfold, acknowledging the ludicrous nature of the scenario. But Lenoir is such a wooden performer that she makes you scoff at, and not with, the film when Maissa helps inattentive viewers identify Anna’s wild bunch — all of whom are clad in yellow wigs, sunglasses, and stilt-high heels — by pulling a John Madden and literally describing what’s happening in security footage of Anna mid-robbery: “It’s the same girls, but in different outfits!”
That kind of lighthearted winking would be a lot funnier if Anna’s supposedly high-functioning colleagues didn’t also talk like mouth-breathing cave-dwellers. After a messy shootout, Frank Sr. urges Maria (Tatian Pajkovic), Anna’s second-in-command, to put pressure on a comrade’s bullet wound. Anna obeys, but soon wails, “It’s not working! She needs a hospital.” Tight-lipped Frank never entirely overstays his welcome, but he sounds just as dumb since Skrein’s husky pout makes Frank resemble a pseudo-erotic version of Christian Bale’s Batman.
The filmmakers are weirdly uninterested in their cast’s body language and can’t even competently objectify their eye-candy ensemble. In a particularly laughable dialogue scene, Lenoir cluelessly disrupts Karasov’s poolside phone call when she, presented in extreme close-up, languidly dips her hips a few inches away from his head. And when Skrein takes his shirt off, his bruise-pocked body is filmed unenthusiastically at mid-range and with natural light, making his sinewy heroin-chic torso look like freezer-burned beefcake.
Skrein looks even worse during hand-to-hand fight scenes. He’s usually filmed from odd, below-the-waist canted angles, making it hard to get a good look at his subtle smirk and hunched-over, battle-ready posture. Inept filmmaking also ruins amiably preposterous stunts, like when Skrein leaps in slow motion from a yacht onto a Jet Ski, or when Frank fights an ax-wielding heavy with a bright-red life preserver. The Transporter Refueled would be endearingly over-the-top if its creators were clever enough to follow through on their daffier ideas.