2½ stars (out of four)
Jason Statham returns as Superman with a driver's license in "The Transporter 2," a rare sequel that's better than its original.
If only this spoke better of the original.
For the uninitiated, Statham plays Frank Martin, a professional "transporter" of delicate goods: guns, money, human cargo. Instead of a giant "S" on his chest, amoral Frank wears a black suit and keeps duplicates in his trunk. He doesn't ask questions. His rules, in the original, were: 1) "Don't change the deal," 2) "No names" and 3) "Never open the package."
Such a character of strength and integrity was Frank that he barely batted a British eyelash when he repeated each time-tested rulejust before breaking it.
"The Transporter 2" is less concerned with rules and more with action, action, action. Implausible, gloriously goofy action.
This time out, Frank drives the 6-year-old son (Hunter Clary) of a wealthy government official (Matthew Modine) in Miami. But Frank can't avoid trouble, even on an ice cream run like this.
Before you can say "car bomb and kidnap plot," Frank finds himself in the role of reluctant protector, putting the beat-down on bad guysand the double-barreled assassin Lola (model Kate Nauta), a femme fatale in raccoon mascara and a see-through bikini.
Every superhero needs a saucy female antagonist. Batman has Catwoman. Spider-Man has the Black Cat. Frank has Lola, who's not really a cat person.
The original "Transporter" lost me when Statham fought a bunch of goons in an oil slick, using only a set of detached bicycle pedals for traction. So elaborate were the fight setups, they started to detach from reality and the movie itself.
Cory Yuen, who directed the first "Transporter," returns this time as the martial arts coordinator and gives up the director's chair to his former artistic director, Louis Leterrier. It's a peculiar job swap but effective, as the fight scenes are more focused and gritty. Yuen's set-piece brawl in a dry-docked boat is particularly inspired.
Ultimately, however, "The Transporter 2" seems like a movie at odds with itself and the physical universe. Yuen's fight scenes are dazzlingmovie martial arts in their highest form. But Leterrier's directing and the script by producer Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita") and Robert Mark Kamen call for computer-generated car and airplane stunts that clash with Yuen's expertly choreographed physical feats.
When a final showdown in an out-of-control jet doesn't turn each of its principals into Spam, you either explain away Frank's miraculous survival with his superhero status or write the film off entirely as escapist fun.
"The Transporter 2" stands a triumph of stunts over plot, of style over substanceof the wool we pull over our own eyes. It's brainless, high-speed, popcorn fun.
'The Transporter 2'
Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen; photographed by Mitchell Amundsen; production designed by John Mark Harrington; music by Alexandre Azaria; edited by Christine Lucas Navarro and Vincent Tabaillon; produced by Besson and Steve Chasman. A 20th Century Fox Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:30. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violent action, sexual content, partial nudity and brief language).
Frank Martin - Jason Statham
Gianni - Alessandro Gassman
Audrey Billings - Amber Valletta
Lola - Kate Nauta
Mr. Billings - Matthew Modine
Dimitri - Jason Flemyng
Stappleton - Keith David
Jack Billings - Hunter ClayCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times