I never thought much of the Transporter films that launched the career of Jason Statham, perhaps the definitive martial arts action star of this generation. And so I don’t know what possessed me to watch The Transporter Refueled, yet another reboot of a franchise that’s not even a decade removed from its last entry (Transporter 3 was released in 2008).
As I discovered, Refueled is actually supposed to be the first of a new “prequel trilogy” tracing the exploits of the same protagonist, Frank Martin, aka The Transporter. The new actor playing the role is Ed Skrein, who had a short-lived stint on Game of Thrones as Daario before being replaced due to “politics” (his words). I guess Skrein is supposed to be a younger version of Martin, though the reality is that Skrein is 32, just three years younger than Statham when the latter starred in the first Transporter film.
Anyway, Refueled is, as expected, laughably bad. It literally made me laugh. The plot revolves around a gang of prostitutes seeking revenge after waiting for 15 years (the specifics are never really explained properly) and seek Martin’s services to help them achieve this goal. As insurance, they kidnap Martin’s father (Ray Stevenson), who seems to be both very capable and useless.
You can tell what they were going for with this film. A low-budget (US$22 million) cash grab with a hot new star in Skrein, a bunch of sexy lingerie models, and loads of fast cars and hand-to-hand combat sequences. If it does well, then boom, two more similar films. If not, then no big deal. It’s made US$33 million thus far, which I’m not sure is quite enough to justify sequels (first Transporter made nearly US$44 million at a budget of US$21 million).
Economics aside, there are just so many problems with this film. The first is that Ed Skrein is no Jason Statham. Martin is an iconic character, and the films are too close together for people to forget that he made famous by Statham. Plus Statham had the charisma and the real moves as an accomplished martial artists. When you look at how buffed and slick he is you can believe his badassness. Skrein’s other talent is rapping, and while he’s more traditionally handsome than Statham, he’s not rugged enough by comparison to the original. He’s too tall and gangly, all arms and legs, and he lacks the swift brutality that made Statham such a cool character. Skrein is basically Nicholas Hoult with more muscles and less acting ability, with a style of speaking that comes across as a mumblier British version of Jack Bauer.
You can feel a sense of sexism in the writing of the female characters too. They’re supposed to be criminal masterminds who have been plotting for years, but at various points throughout the movie they’re painted as stupid and emotional and unstable. They look good in skimpy outfits though.
The dialogue is not as appalling as it could have been, though the overall writing and plot development is very poor. (I’m breaking my spoiler-free rule here for those who want to know how funny this movie is, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you still think you might see it.) The film starts when a group of mobsters shoot dead a bunch of people and takes over the local prostitution ring. We then move forward 15 years (the prostitutes have aged remarkably well), and when we see the gangsters again, the film zooms in on each of them and flashes back 15 years to remind us which gangster they were (like it matters because they’re all just forgettable cannon fodder anyway). I’m being totally serious here. Each and every one of them, one after the other. Reminds me of an Indian soap opera that has to find ways to fill five minutes of running time with a one-page script. Another funny moment is when Martin is driving the women away from a gangster compound and a bunch of goons walk up to the car with no guns (for some reason they all like hand-to-hand combat), but instead of just running over all of them, Martin gets out of the car, and while it continues to roll forward at a snail’s pace he beats them all up by hand before getting back in the car and driving off. “The most hilarious part of the film is that after Martin’s dad is finally released by the hot prostitute women (after a threesome with two of them, no less). Literally a minute later, Martin receives a call from the gangsters, and guess what? His dad got kidnapped again! Twice in one film! You would have thought they’d come up with more than one plot device to advance the narrative.
Refueled is similar in concept to the recent Hitman: Agent 47 film in that they’re both cheap action reboots. Like Agent 47, Refueled does have some decent action sequences — nothing memorable, though well-executed — but its tone is far too serious to fit with the silliness of the film. Agent 47‘s tone was a little all over the place, but at least it seemed to acknowledge how ridiculous it was. My guess is that Refueled was aiming for a Fast & Furious vibe but failed miserably.
On the whole, Refueled more or less turned out the way I expected. It’s a B-grade film that ought to have been a straight-to-DVD experience at best, but because we’re all idiots we get to waste our money on crap like this at the cinema.
1.5 stars out of 5