★ ★ ½
Whether you asked for it or not, The Transporter is the latest action franchise to receive the reboot treatment. The Transporter Refueled is officially the fourth entry in the popcorn-flick series, and the first without Jason Statham portraying the role of Frank Martin. He’s passed the torch to newcomer Ed Skrein, an equally stoic Brit now playing the legendary wheelman whose skills are highly sought after by unscrupulous clients. Frenchman Camille Delamarre, who worked as an editor on Transporter 3, tries his best to restart the story line of this driver-for-hire, but The Transporter Refueled gets dragged down by a lack of star power and a heavy reliance on tired genre tropes.
Frank is contracted by ex-prostitute Anna (Loan Chabanol) to act as a driver in her complex scheme to exact revenge on her former employer — a Russian crime lord who’s been active in the skin trade for more than 15 years. Anna is joined by three of her colleagues, all women involved in the underground sex business. After Frank transports the ladies away from a bank heist targeting the Russian, he unwittingly becomes an essential cog in their plan. His recently retired father (Ray Stevenson) is kidnapped and held at gunpoint by the ladies, forcing Frank to go along with their designs. Begrudgingly, the father-son duo become accomplices to the women as they aim to inflict some serious damage on the gangster’s wallet. It’s revealed that the Russian crime boss is also a former client of Frank’s, and the transporter is soon targeted by his syndicate in order to stop the ladies’ plan from succeeding. This places his father in even greater danger, and sets up the high-octane climax.
Skrein isn’t awful in the role of the ever-stoic Frank Martin, but his performance pales in comparison to the more polished Statham, who had a rare sense of self-awareness that made him a dynamic action hero. Skrein has yet to learn how to provide the nuance to enhance a pedestrian script, like the one provided here by the team of Luc Besson, Bill Collage, and Adam Cooper. However, Stevenson is game as the playboy, ex-spy father, and his charisma boosts some of the film’s down moments.
Refueled has a number of Audi-powered escape scenes and hand-to-hand beatdowns, but the stakes never really feel that high. For example, there’s a bit involving poisoning that anyone will guess is a red herring from a mile away. It’s nice to see the femme fatales in control for a bit, with Anna and her gang (dutifully played by Gabriella Wright, Tatiana Pajkovic, and Wenxia Yu) brandishing plenty of moxie, but, unsurprisingly, Martins Senior and Junior end up having to save the day. Without Statham’s charm and wit, The Transporter Refueled is just a humdrum entry in a fading action franchise.