Transporter: Refueled (2015) Review: Running On Empty
This summer saw quite a few fourth and fifth franchise iterations. There was ‘Jurassic World’, the spiritual sequel to the original 1993 epic, but still the fourth film in the series. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ saw the return of a franchise long thought dead, and even ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ brought back a Tom Cruise that most believed to be past his prime, for the second time in a row.
Typically a franchise tends to lose steam after the third film, but in the age where the seventh ‘Fast & Furious’ film was the #3 movie at the worldwide box office, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. They’re also doing well critically. Both ‘Rogue Nation’, and ‘Fury Road’ have received great praise so far this year standing at 93 and 97 percent respectively on Rotten Tomatoes. No longer is it easy to write off a franchise that goes beyond the standard trilogy, as the viewer might just be walking into something marvelous that they didn’t expect to.
Immensely, ‘Transporter: Refueled’ is not that. In fact, the only thing unexpected about the film is just how bad it can get. After 3 films starring Jason Statham, a critical and commercial failure of a television series, the Transporter returns with Ed Skrein at the helm. He plays the same character as Statham, Frank Martin, and his role is the exact same. I never much got into the ‘Transporter’ series, mostly because the description alone bored me. He’s a very well established courier, who fights real good, and drives pretty quick.
The movie opens in a style that settles your expectations for the movie. A van drives up in a shady part of town and a couple of Russian gang members establish themselves as the criminals that now control the area, running a prostitution ring. The gang members are more criminal caricatures than characters. Radivoje Bukvic plays main bad guy ‘Arkady Karasov’, whose only character trait in the scene and in the whole movie is that he’s Russian and angry.
After he creepily recruits Loan Chabanol’s ‘Anna’, the movie jumps 15 years later and Anna is out for revenge. She hires the Transporter to move a package, and when it’s revealed that she intends to use the transporter to help her dismantle Arkady’s whole organization, he’s unable to say no as Anna has Transporter senior, played by Ray Stevenson, held hostage. What follows is a mess of car chases, choppy fight scenes, wooden dialogue and the year’s most improbable action in a summer where ‘Hitman: Agent 47’ exists.
This is usually where I get into what parts of the movie were bad or good, but seeing as there was mostly bad, it’s just a matter of choosing something to start with. First off, the dialogue in this movie is absolutely atrocious. I can’t think of a single witty line, or clever turn of phrase in this film to make it memorable. Part of what makes bad action movies so good is when the characters themselves charm you into forgiving the film’s faults.
‘Transporter: Refueled’ does nothing to help its overall mediocrity. Cheesy lines are one thing, but when your lines are also boring, that’s when you have a real problem. There are even points in the film where the general audience member can predict just what the characters are going to say next. There’s absolutely nothing new brought to the table with Refueled.
As bad as the dialogue is, wooden words can be saved by a charming cast. There’s absolutely nothing charming about this cast. Their roles are paint by numbers at best. ‘Anna’ is a prostitute out for revenge, ‘Arkady’ is a crime lord with an ego, and even the Transporter is an anti-hero who can’t help but do the right thing. The movie tries to play with its cookie-cutter composition in a few scenes (Frank is referred to as a new age John Wayne type) but instead of coming off as clever, they simply highlight the movie’s sins.
I can’t really blame the cast for being unwatchable because when the characters are this poorly developed, it’s difficult for any performance to seem endearing. The only one with any sort of charisma to him is Ray Stevenson as Frank Sr. His character is nothing new, just a silver fox with a blooming pension, but that character is fun to watch when he’s on.
Aside from being boring, the movie also seems to think its audience is as unintelligent as it is.The dialogue is heavy on exposition and the worst type of exposition, repetition. About 12 minutes after that opening scene, which establishes the faces of our main antagonists, the movie shows what these characters are up to 15 years later. Except, the movie decides you probably fell asleep after the first 5 minutes and proceeds to show you flashbacks of the exact same opening footage in black and white. Granted the main antagonist has a haircut now, but I don’t recall having to go up to a friend with a picture of what I looked like last week every time I go to the barber.
It also doesn’t help that there’s zero tension in the movie. Ed Skrein’s performance suffers since his character is smirking the entire time. Every attempt to inject tension just ends up falling flat since the audience can see right through the facade the movie is trying for. It might help if the villain himself was engaged in the plot at all, but because Anna’s plan is unexpected by him, he spends the movie going “Huh? What? Someone stole money from my account?” This makes it all the more apparent that there’s not a chance in the world that their plan won’t go through.
Not to mention Frank’s car doesn’t receive a scratch in this movie. Of course, with the way the Audi was shot in this film, I’m not surprised. Never have I seen such product placement be so integral to a film in such a shoddy way. Frank will actually go on about the features of his new car as the camera lovingly pans over the Audi logo nice and smooth so that in reality, we’re watching a 93 minute Audi commercial
Of course, the action saved the movie, right? Well, no, not really. The chase scenes are poorly shot and choreographed, and the scenes do nothing but lose momentum as they meander along. Pacing is a real problem in this movie that runs for only 96 minutes but feels like 130. I can’t remember the last time I checked my watch as much as I did in this movie. Pacing aside, there was just a problem with spacing in this movie. It has an over-reliance on close up shots and doesn’t let the frame tell the story as it unfolds. This forces the camera to move erratically as it tries to keep up with the action. It got to the point where I wanted to scream “GET YOUR FINGER OFF THE ZOOM” but stopped myself because I realized I just didn’t care anymore. There are a few scenes that come off as unpopped kernels of something clever, but they never do more than disappoint you.
That’s all Transporter will do is disappoint you. Even if you had the lowest of expectations, the movie won’t even match that. Yeah it’s entertaining to laugh at how bad it is, and if you look at it as a parody of modern-day action films then it’s probably brilliant, but even having said that, I can’t recommend it to anyone. It’s not a bad film that I would say you should see like ‘Fantastic Four’, it’s a bad film that I would ask you “Why are you wasting your time with this, go read a book” and books are for nerds, man.
Rating: Read A Book
Side Note: This plot is exactly the same as ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. The female protagonist takes it upon herself to take the female concubines of the antagonist away from him, whilst using the skills of the titular male protagonist who isn’t really more than just the driving force of the film. Also, it’s the fourth in the franchise and for the third act, they have to go back to where they started. The only difference is ‘Transporter: Refueled’ sucks, and I’m about to watch ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ again.