After watching Transporter 2, a movie so non-sensical and ridiculous, that you can’t help but laugh every few minutes as it piles up the absurdities, I couldn’t help but think about what a friend of mine once said about action movies. “80% of it has to be believable; they can have the other 20%. Anything less than 80% and I am taken out of the movie.”
I used to be entirely behind this, but after Transporter 2 and thinking back to one of my favorites, the fabulous garbage that is The Long Kiss Goodnight, I realize that 0% believability is even better. Is it simply the tone and the spirit with which these types of films are made? Transporter 2 only faintly bothers to give us a story behind its kidnapping and virus dissemination, and then doesn’t even explain how those many who are infected are cured.* It has a humorously short memory and I honestly could hardly have been more entertained as it continuously topped itself with its what-planet-is-this-from? action logistics. It even reinforces the old kung fu cliché of one at a time style attacks. That SNL sketch from 20 years ago, the movie ninja training school, which instructed its students to go at the hero one at a time while the others waited their turn, would be proud. Transporter 2 has one or two riveting fight scenes which follow this pattern, the amazing fire hose sequence is worthy of top shelf Jackie Chan (think the ladder scene in First Strike**), and even more that defy logic so that it becomes more than just a slog through lethargic drama, and an almost science fiction movie with an invincible hero, who takes no pleasure in what is he doing, cursed by his ability to fly from tall buildings through windows and onto moving cabs without a scratch on him. It’s almost like a junkie, cheerfully ugly looking sequel to Unbreakable, with Audi product placement. Obviously this was not intended by the filmmakers, but clearly they saw any possibility of mortality for Statham‘s character as a hindrance, and decided to run with the notion that he was a low rent Superman, with a limited world-view (hence his few “rules”).
I think what is important in these types of films is that you are never actually drawn in by the movie’s story, therefore there is no fear or suspense or plot points to roll your eyes at. If you compare Transporter 2 to something like the reprehensible Bad Boys II, which is only scarcely more plausible, the difference is, besides the budget, is the bloated running time of the latter (literally an hour longer than T2), which allow for attempts to develop the characters and establish backstory wherein your patience evaporates and you see the viewpoint that the writers and director are espousing. Transporter 2 never stops for anything that is even faintly recognizable in the real world, and would rather spend its time showing a wonderfully terrible looking CGI plane heading towards the water while the combatants brawl inside. The reason this is so much better than the first Transporter film is precisely because it is so sloppy and haphazard, the original had a story that entered the movie in the second half which only served as an annoying distraction. A perfect example is when Statham dispatches the henchlady, she is impaled by spikes on what appears to be a random piece of art in the villain’s home, something the director didn’t even bother to establish in a single shot before her death***. That sort of incompetence and laziness would normally elicit confusion and resentment, and yet I enjoyed every second of it. Who knew that being a completely careless filmmaker was actually an advantage?
The question is, if other films start to take on this stance, where the hero is not just a personality-free blank slate of exceptional agility and strength, but someone who it isn’t even fair to be in the same room with and luck and contrivance aren’t even required anymore, will this style escalate too far? Can you grow tired of completely outrageous and ridiculous stunts where you don’t identify with anything going on, or is Transporter 2 (and to a lesser extent, The Long Kiss Goodnight, because at least it has characters and many legitimately funny lines) an exception because it has so many screen-presence free actors running through it? Would this not work if there was a big star at the center of it, because they bring certain baggage with them? An argument can be made that in general Statham has presence, but certainly not in T2, because he’s never even given a chance to express or establish anything. In the real world, the equivalent of Transporter 2 would be Jackass, as the participants do such heinous and nearly unimaginably silly things to themselves and others, but they are held back by the fact that they are actually doing it, so that kind of voyeurism never really loses the vicarious thrill. How far can a fictional movie go when it has no limits, and still hold the audience’s attention?
*For those who’ve seen it:
I’m assuming Matthew Modine and wife die because how exactly did they extract the antidote from the villain once it is in his bloodstream? I would have to make the same assumption about all those other drug heads of state. So basically Frank only saved the kid’s life, leaving him a millionaire orphan.
**Cory Yuen directed the fight scenes, and he impresses as much as he did with the best Jet Li films, The Legend of Fong Say Yuk and Tai Chi Master.
***It is way off to the right in one shot, but you certainly would only know that if you had already seen the film and recognized it.