Tales of a Gnomish Wanderer

jason stathamI never paid any attention to Jason Statham until he popped up in “The Expendables,” at which point I decided I would finally get round to watching one of his solo movies. Then I forgot all about him and his movies for a couple of years. Then I bumped into a really cheap two-disc set of the first two Transporter movies. Then I thought “Meh.” Then i bought the things anyway…

In this series of flicks Statham plays a garden gnome called Frank Martin who works as a driver for hire – criminal hire. For some strange reason the English Martin is living in France, perhaps because the locals make him feel taller. Anyway, Frank is tasked with delivering a gym bag which turns out to contain a living woman, a small oriental package by the name of Lai Kwai. This comes as not much of a surprise given that the package has previously been described as 150 cm long and 50 kilos heavy, which, as it turns out, are the exact dimensions of the average Asian woman. Also, there is a Shu Qi listed in the credits right after Statham’s name, which is kind of a giveaway. Funny thing is that Lai Kwai tells our hero that she is Japanese. I am no expert on Asia, but I do know my Chow Mein from my Sashimi and am pretty sure that Lai Kwai isn’t a Japanese name. Not only that, but when she is speaking to her daddy, most of the time it doesn’t sound at all Japanese – none of the familiar European type sounds found in the Japanese language, mostly just the kind of incomprehensible gobbledygook we get in Chinese. On top of that, all the Lai Kwais I can find on Google are in Hong Kong! See, folks, this is why people think action movies are stupid and end up writing snarky articles about them…

It turns out that our little Asian pastry is the offspring of a very bad man who seems to be involved in some kind of white slavery ring – except the victims seem to be Asian so I guess it’s a yellow slavery ring. Being a kind-hearted kind of crim, Frankie Boy decides to help the captives and soon the shit hits the fan and the oil hits the floor. That’s pretty much all there is to it. When you come down to it, there is not much to recommend this movie. Statham has a sort of embryonic charisma that may squeeze its way out into the world when he’s older (may already have done so, given that this movie is from 2002,) the girl is quite pretty, and the French cop has a certain rumpled charm and presence but that’s it. The primary villain is a psycho white guy who comes across like an especially ludicrous clown, and the secondary villain is the racially confused co-star’s dad, a man who looks like he’s had the facelift from hell. Apart from giving us an opportunity to marvel at just how bad the white man’s acting and the Asian man’s facelift are, these two are quite bland and uninteresting. It’s not all bad, though. The thing does have plenty of mindless action, including some fights featuring the kind of colorful martial arts moves that would get you killed in real life, and a sense of humor that occasionally pops its head out – most memorably in the choice of music during one of the over-the-top fights, and in freaky-facelift guy’s line about how his daughter “Won’t be coming round after all,” after he hears a gunshot in the distance!

Not surprisingly for something based on a bunch of commercials, this movie comes across like a cheapie that turned into an unexpected hit, which in turn suggests that the sequel may have been made with more money and resources and may therefore be more worthy of my time. Due to this brilliant bit of deduction – and the fact that the movies were part of a two disc set – I decided to watch the sequel.

As Transporter 2 starts, things aren’t looking too good. First, Frank has moved from the south of France to a far more visually mundane city which appears to be Miami – there are Latinos and palm trees everywhere, so it’s either Miami or L.A. Then we are introduced to a “cute kid,” who Frank is being paid to drive to and from school. God save us from “cute kids” in movies, they are almost always a sign of impending disaster – like in “The Omen” and “Home Alone.” Then we get a look at the female cast members and none of the women are, for my taste at least, attractive. The girl in the first movie may not have known what her native language was, but at least she was decorative. And to make things even worse some bloody idiot has decided to put Mathew Modine in the bloody movie! But then things start to look up. The villain himself is another boring psycho cliché who delivers woeful (if oddly appropriate) lines such as “Wit is not a requirement of the job,” but his paramour and hench-wench is far more interesting, at least visually. A skinny blonde model with a minimum of both hair and body fat and a penchant for taking part in shootouts while dressed like a stripper, Lola makes for a picturesque and striking villainess and even has the ability to come across as a truly mad ferret without putting on all the funny faces we see in her man…

Lola Transporter 2 compNot what I consider pretty but very striking, a great visual element. Another good thing about this movie is that the Frenchman from the first movie is on hand to provide some of the movie’s more intentional bits of humor, having followed Frank to Miami so he can get away from all that annoying sunshine they have in the south of France and instead enjoy all that annoying sunshine they have in Florida…

french cop transporter 2Oh, yeah, the pommy garden gnome also is in this one. Here he is wishing Lola would get herself some bloody mouth wash…

Lola grossing out Frank with her breath

One day, Frank the budding child psychologist takes his charge to the doctor’s office where we find a suspiciously familiar blonde standing behind the desk. Unlike the audience, Frank has no idea who the unlikely receptionist is, but being a bit of a brain our man soon realizes something is up when the kid’s doctor has to take a look at the name embroidered on his own coat before introducing himself as a Dr Tyberg! Fearing the doctor may be Rolf Harris in disguise, Frank beats the crap out of everyone and gets the kid out of there. Unfortunately, as soon as he gets the kid back home Lola tracks him down, sticks one gun in Frank’s groin and another in the kid’s face and forces the kid to hand Frank over. No, wait, she forces Frank to hand the kid over. That’s it. So now the kid has been kidnapped and Frank has to get him back because the kid owes him five bucks and the transporting business hasn’t been too good lately so he really can’t let it slide. But before he can swing into action the kidnappers return the kid and soon Frank realizes that even though the thing is being portrayed as a common kidnapping it is in fact a cunning plot by the Colombian drug cartels to wipe out a gaggle of DEA-type honchos. You see, the kid’s dad is some sort of big cheese who is going to hang out with all these other cheeses at a conference or something, and if the bad guys infect the kid with a deadly virus the kid will infect daddy, and daddy will infect the lawmen. So now Frank sets out to find the antidote to the virus in order to save the kid, the kid’s family, and the cheeses.

This gives us an excuse to see some impressive claptrap such as a car chase so cool that even I liked it – how can you not like the wonderfully absurd car leap from the roof of one building into one of the middle levels of the car park across the street? And then there’s the way Frank removes a bomb from the underside of the car by using a hook hanging from a conveniently placed crane – even though the hook is facing the wrong way! Then there’s the scene in which Frank uses a jet ski to chase down a bus being used as a getaway vehicle by a Russian henchman-biologist-belt thief! And as in the first film, we are treated to some entertaining but highly improbable chopsocky including one scene involving use of a fire hose so innovative that it has to be seen to be believed. Thanks to the film’s sly sense of humor, though, all this silliness comes across as fun rather than as insulting to the intelligence – it’s bullshit, but it’s fun bullshit and the film-makers aren’t expecting you to believe the unbelievable.

In the end, of course, all turns out well with Frank getting the antidote and curing everyone. Strange criminal is Frank – he keeps saving people. Hell, he even saves the main villain from drowning, though that’s only because he has the antidote in his blood and only after apparently breaking his back! I guess that’s why Frank loves his job – it combines his love of hurting people with his love of helping people! Alas for Frank, he doesn’t get the girl but he does get a weather-beaten old Frenchman, which, now that I think of it, is possibly the lamest consolation prize in history. Things are even worse for poor Lola, who proves to be no match for Frank when it comes to unarmed combat and meets an end that had me hearing “Our love is a bed of nails! Love is good on a bed of nails!” inside my head. Either that or the guy next door was playing his old Alice Cooper albums again…

I actually enjoyed Transporter 2 so much that I watched it twice – though the second time it was only the good bits – and, God help me, I will probably get round to watching the third one sooner or later ; though I suspect it will be later.

Leave a Reply

What is 11 + 15 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)