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Ed Skrein as Frank Martin is a 'transporter,' the discreet guy you get to move your precious (contraband) goods from point A to point B along the French Riviera.

Bruno Calvo/EUROPACORP/TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

1.5 out of 4 stars

Written by
Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Luc Besson
Directed by
Camille Delamarre
Starring
Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol
Genre
Action
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English

Dapper in a crisp black suit and sleek watch, Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) keeps company with criminals, MI6 agents and prostitution kingpins, but he gets his thrills from watching the clock. Being on time is Frank's raison d'être and an occupational necessity: He is a "transporter," the discreet guy you get to move your precious (contraband) goods from point A to point B along the French Riviera. But for all its high-speed car chases and extravagant stunts, director Camille Delamarre's reboot of the Transporter franchise is as punctilious as Frank himself – glossy in finish but a little uptight.

This is the fourth in the improbably long Transporter series, with Skrein replacing Jason Statham, who still has skin in the action-movie game, having recently played a lovable doofus alongside Melissa McCarthy in Spy. In truth, The Transporter Refueled could take a cue from Spy and learn to lighten up. Even though Delamarre's film is as absurd a spectacle as McCarthy's pratfall-heavy comedy, it takes itself too seriously, with a stiff upper lip – just as its British lead is wont to do.

Like Statham's man-on-the-job, Refueled's Frank does his risky work with aplomb, remaining unruffled behind the wheel of his tech-savvy sports car. That is until Anna, a reluctant prostitute (played by a doe-eyed Loan Chabanol) with a vendetta against her boss, swerves him off course. Reluctance – and Anna's unwillingness to be a sex worker – is supposed to be her main charm, and Delamarre contrasts Anna against the more amenable and street-savvy Maissa (Noémie Lenoir). In the opening sequence, the film relies on a hackneyed flashback to establish Anna's motive and to moralize Maissa's. The righteous Anna is out to kill the man who forced her into prostitution while Maissa has instead helped him to build his empire. The boring portrait drawn is that Anna is pure and good, while Maissa is conniving and evil. By virtue of this crass distinction, the film draws a hasty line between sex work and murderous revenge.

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In the paternalistic world of The Transporter, the wrong done to the innocent Anna must be punished with death. While Anna bats her eyelashes and lets fall a stoic and single tear, the film leaves little room for less violent forms of female agency – such as Maissa's – to come into focus.

What's more, the film is anchored in an odd daddy-dearest plot line, with Frank revering his father (Ray Stevenson) and playing the straight man to his dad's Don Juan charms. Whereas Frank Sr. is a suave yet resourceful former intelligence operative who calls to mind James Bond circa the mid-nineties, Frank Jr. is a 007 for millennials: Intuitive technology is a seamless part of his life. He also eschews the bombast of guns and shaken-not-stirred drinks for more innovative weapons (in one fight scene he uses a small shopping bag against his attackers, in another, an orange life preserver). Try as it might to recast the familiar tropes of the action genre in a hip and modern light, The Transporter Refueled can't seem to step out from under the shadow of better bygone action titles.

In these 96 minutes of stilted dialogue and a plot that needlessly loops back on itself, you will find The Transporter Refueled dutifully following the rules and predictabilities of the action genre and not much else. Unlike other action movies released this year – Spy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Furious 7 – Delamarre's has no guts, and no glory.

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