Transporter series has new lead actor and it’s going something like this
Every time a new actor is cast in the role of Batman, the nerds of the world march toward their computers and with a sense of entitled rage abuse the caps button on their keyboards until their brittle, pudgy fingers are reduced to Cheetos stained nubs. But where was all of that self-righteous indignation when it was announced that Jason Statham would be replaced in the “Transporter” series?
Unlike the Batman movies you can’t obfuscate a bad casting decision with a cowl, latex muscles and a bad guy who stabs people in the eye with a pencil. No. If, for whatever strange reason, you’re deciding to replace Statham with another actor, you need to dig up Charles Bronson’s grave, cast his remains and proceed to manipulate it like a grisly, unworldly Muppet. Or else go in a completely different direction and cast Nathan Lane, because who wouldn’t want to see Lane in the “Transporter” series? (I’m still disappointed he wasn’t in any of “The Expendables” sequels) Any other decision (apart from simply not making the film at all) is a bad one. Case in point, Ed Skrein – Statham’s replacement in “The Transporter: Refueled” is neither the animated corpse of a former Cannon films contract player nor has he starred alongside Matthew Broderick in a smash Broadway musical. In short, he’s completely miscast.
“The Transporter: Refueled” should be way more fun than it actually is. All the pieces are there. The film opens with a hooker massacre outside of the sex shops of the French Riviera and closes with Skrein jumping off a jet-ski and landing feet first through the passenger side window of a Mercedes. It’s dumb. Knowingly, borderline-brilliant dumb. The kind of dumb where the protagonist brags about not killing his adversaries but can’t wait to cave their heads in with a fire extinguisher.
However, those dumb pieces never develop into a satisfying whole. Like too many action movies nowadays “The Transporter: Refueled” is needlessly complicated and convoluted. What shouldn’t be more than a series of scenes where a dune buggy is driven off a skyscraper so that it’s driver can punch the faces of those that are dumb enough to lean out the window and watch as he falls to his seeming death, is actually a complex web of dumbed down “Oceans 11”-style heists that involve various sundry wigs, vials of fake diseases and inferred old man sex. Skrein is blackmailed into escorting four prostitutes through the city of Cannes. What happens beyond that is both unclear and uninteresting.
Granted, the past three “Transporter” films carried a similar sense of unwarranted complexity but those films had Statham charging through them, murdering people with his legs and using his shirt as a weapon. Statham wasn’t an actor by any means but he had charisma, presence, a sense of sly self-awareness.
Skrein, on the other hand, is a block of wood with a frowny face Sharpied to its center. An android perpetually stuck on glower. It’s not that Skrein isn’t given a chance to properly Statham up the proceedings. There’s plenty of scenes like the one where Skrein beats up several baddies with the sliding drawers of several file cabinets as well as blowing up one of the several million Audis he owns with a self-destruct remote that, amusingly, self-destructs after he tosses it away. All of this sounds lovably unhinged, but Skrein’s lifeless presence drains the fun out of these moments.
Even though “The Transporter: Refueled” nearly strains itself to wipe clean the events of the previous films and pretend that Statham’s character never existed, Statham’s presence looms large over this film. His absence serves to remind what a missed opportunity this film really is. About the only consistent enjoyment I managed to glean from this movie was the realization that Europe is filled with people who are simultaneously hideous and yet weirdly beautiful.
It’s like a continent populated entirely by Steve Buscemi and Sandra Bernhard lookalikes.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
“The Transporter: Refueled”
Starring: Ed Skrein
Director: Camille Delamarre
Weekender Rating: WV