We gave it a B-
In every film that involves Luc Besson, the French action mastermind behind Leon: The Professional and the Taken series, there is at least one jaw-dropping action set piece that always justifies the existence of the whole movie, even if the rest of the runtime is sub-par. Even in critically derided fare like 3 Days to Kill and Lockout, Besson’s name tends to justify the price of popcorn.
In The Transporter Refueled, the key scene involves a high speed chase on an airport runway and a series of stunning jumps an Audi is probably not designed to make. So with the bare minimum Besson-ness delivered, how will the other 86 minutes of this, the fourth in the Transporter series and the first to star Ed Skrein in the title role, fare?
Results are mixed. The bananas plot, such as it is, involves a quartet of prostitutes getting revenge on Russian crime boss Yuri (Yuri Kolokonikov), who has kept them under his thumb for 15 years. They draft professional transporter Frank Martin (Skrein) into helping them execute a series of increasingly complicated heists that chip away at Yuri’s deeply-insulated empire bit by bit. They are joined by Frank’s oft-kidnapped father (Ray Stevenson), a just-retired international man of mystery. The story becomes a mess pretty quickly, and all it really does is distract from the escalating fistfights and gun battles that lead to the final standoff with Yuri.
Jason Statham had carried the previous three Transporter films, and his volcanic machismo and super-cool action charisma helped add some heft to what amounted to a bunch of car chases strung together. Skrein doesn’t have Statham’s devil-may-care attitude, instead choosing to give Frank a quiet determination that is not terrible but also not all that interesting. For a character whose name is in the title, he often fades into the backgrounds of scenes (particularly when that background is the gorgeous French Riviera, where most of the film takes place). Skrein, a former Game of Thrones player, still has the potential to be a compelling movie star, but Refueled will not be much of a calling card for him.
That shortcoming is enough to ultimately stall Refueled, as there’s nobody at the center to hold all the disparate action beats and stray plot strands together with a look. (Along with Statham, regular Besson player Liam Neeson is a master at this). Any time there’s any talking—and for a supposed high-octane affair, there are a lot of scenes where characters just stop to chat about the horrors of prostitution—is something of a disaster, mostly because the script itself is relatively wooden but also because a lot of the actors seem to be trying to catch up to their own lines. Director Camille Delamarre is pretty good with tossing cars around (there’s a particularly inventive escape early in the movie involving a series of fire hydrants), but the dialogue scenes feel interminable.
Still, it’s hard to deny the hedonistic joy in the way Delamarre plays with his various toys, and the goofball stunts—including the yacht-based finale, with a special appearance by a jet ski—are generally worth wandering through the dialogue desert. It’s certainly a comedown after a season of top-shelf action titles, but the summer can’t last forever. B–