SPOILER ALERT!Co-written and co-produced by Luc Besson, this likeable martial arts thriller is a worthwhile fusion of Walter Hill's film noir The Driver (1978), with Besson's own actioner Léon (aka: The Professional, 1994). Jason Statham plays the efficient and organised, no-questions-asked deliveryman of the title, Frank Martin, who claims (when investigated by the local authorities) to have retired on an army pension to his spacious home in the south of France. Actually, he's funding his comfortably anonymous lifestyle with freelance work for clients in the European underworld. The opening sequence pits Frank's motoring skills against high-speed pursuit by French police, when he's hired to drive the getaway car (a customised black V12 BMW) for an utterly inept gang of bank robbers. Despite the excellent stunt work by Michel Julienne (son of the great Rémy), the resulting chase is simply amusing and clever when it ought to be genuinely exciting.
Still, that's only an introduction to Statham's hero. What happens next is more important and sets up the main plot. Frank is paid to transport a large bag (in the boot of his car) to the residence of a successful crook known as 'Wall Street' (Matt Schulze, from The Fast And The Furious). Along the way, Frank stops to fix a flat tyre, and when he opens the bag he's unnerved to find it contains Chinese girl Lai (Shu Qi, infamous for turning down the role eventually taken by Zhang Zi-yi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), whose father Kwai (Ric Young, the torturer-dentist from TV series Alias), is in cahoots with Wall Street for the purposes of smuggling Asian workers to Europe, using freight containers. Lai makes for a delightfully charming damsel in distress, but although Frank's in a sympathetic mood (considerately feeding his gagged and bound prisoner a soft drink during the road trip), he's unwilling to break his strict mercenary code and obligation to his employer. It's only when Wall Street's latest job offer turns out to involve a car bomb, followed by a tactical assault with heavy ordnance on Frank's picturesque seaside retreat, that our reluctant hero embarks on a one-man crusade against the slave-trading villains.
As moustachioed chief bad guy Wall Street, Schulze's veneer of faux cool hides a ruthless edge, and he's quite capable of killing his own injured henchmen (even in hospital), just to prove he's irredeemably nasty. Frustrated by the moral inertia of bureaucracy, French cop, Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand), wisely turns a blind eye to Frank's extralegal occupation, when he realises that only such direct and violent action against Wall Street and his thuggish minions will save the lives of the 400 illegal immigrants trapped in two imported containers, now ready for transport by road. A climactic scene featuring a couple of articulated lorries on the highway recalls similar truck driving action in classic Bond movie Licence To Kill (1989), which was memorably supervised by Rémy Julienne.
Inevitably, there are wholly illogical plot points: where does the heroic Frank find a parachute when he hijacks a crop-duster plane? There's also predictability in Frank's emotional and romantic involvement with Lai (though who can blame him, really?), and the ultimate fate of the conscienceless baddies is just as certain as the narrative's happy ending. However, the attractive holiday locations in Nice and Cannes make for a contrast to the slickly choreographed kung fu, and there's an admirably sustained level of invention in several of the combat set pieces. In one standout fight sequence, Frank tackles Wall Street's thugs amidst the greasy mess when barrels of motor oil are spilt on the floor of a bus depot, and our hero wears bicycle pedals to maintain his footing while his clumsy opponents slip and fall around him, failing to get a hold on their intended target.
Veteran stunts coordinator Corey Yuen has previously worked on Jet Li action vehicles The One and Kiss Of The Dragon, but is lately better known for helming the Shannon Lee flick And Now You're Dead (1988), and directing Li in the Hong Kong classics The Legend (aka: Fong Sai-yuk, 1993) and its immediate sequel The Legend 2 (aka: Fong Sai-yuk 2). For The Transporter, he spotlights Statham's physicality in the sort of B-movie role that muscle-bound Stallone used to play so well.
DVD extras include three extended fight scenes, a making-of featurette (which is partly voice-translated to cover the Chinese filmmaker's lack of English), plus a blandly descriptive commentary by Statham, and co-producer Steven Chasman.