The Transporter’s stunt choreography and car chases were so good it launched the career of Jason Statham, and conned me into buying a BMW as a teenager. I’m not sure which was a more significant contribution to the culture. You be the judge.
(Welcome back to Jalopnik Movie Club, where we take a look at cars in movies and movies about cars, and you write in with all of your hot takes. This week, we’re reviewing The Transporter, a movie about how it’s cool if you illegally transport stuff unless it’s a container full of people and you’re not the main character.)
I grew up steeped in what I like to consider the action movie renaissance, with great movies like The Bourne Identity, The Matrix, Hero, The Boondock Saints, Mission Impossible, GoldenEye, Ronin, Charlie’s Angels, Rush Hour, The Fast And The Furious, Blade, Kill Bill and many more. Yeah, the ‘80s had Die Hard, Robocop, Aliens, The Terminator and scores more, but it was the following decade where we really had this shit down, before superhero and wizard franchises came to entirely dominate the movie landscape.
But one of the cornerstones of my childhood movie-watching was The Transporter, a ‘90s movie in all but the year it came out, which was 2002.
My first car was an automatic 2007 Honda Civic Coupe, a choice heavily influenced by my parents. As soon as I became the assistant manager of the fast food chain I was working for at the age of 17 (skills that translate naturally into running the night shift on Jalopnik) I ditched that Civic for a manual 2003 BMW 325ci, satisfying my admittedly humble dream of owning a BMW. I had it fuckin’ made.
That dream was born in part from the Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies, where Bond drove a Z3, 7 Series and then a Z8, and an even bigger influence on me was The Transporter’s 735i. Oddly, the switch to Audis in later movies didn’t have as much of an impact.
As good as the E38 7 Series is on its own, The Transporter really helps sell it. Not only is Frank Martin, said Transporter, clearly a badass, but the movie takes care to show how much he values and respects his car, constantly keeping it cleaned and properly tuned. The movie’s treatment of the car translated into it leaving a greater impression on me than if I just saw one passing in the street.
Frank also knows how to drive it. The opening bank heist sequence not only establishes his skill, but also shows off how good the E38 looks from a low angle, how great it sounds when you wind out the revs, how rewarding a non-performance executive sedan can be to drive and how silly this movie is willing to be with the campy French police and awkward bridge jump.
In case you aren’t aware, The Transporter is about an ex-military guy named Frank obsessed over his own made up rules that terrorizes France by transporting pretty much anything no questions asked in his fancy BMW. On the second job in the movie, he breaks his own rules and gets swept up trying to stop a plot to smuggle 400 people into Europe in a shipping a container.
Returning to this movie now reveals a new layer of comedy I don’t remember as a kid. Obviously the French inspector was always great, but there are also some scenes I missed, like when Frank is basically bursting out of a teal Polo shirt, loose white slacks and sandals and trying to have a serious conversation with Lai about a bunch of people being trafficked in a storage container, all of which I think is actually meant to be played for laughs considering he stole the clothes. Or there’s the scene where Lai tries to seriously say that Jason Statham had “a kind face” when she was lying about picking him up off of the side of the road at night.
This movie also has a stylish flair to it beyond the great choreography, like the use of “tracer” rounds every time a gun goes off, some unorthodox camera angles, multiple over-the-top action sequences and an absolutely incredible soundtrack that all likely factored in to how impressionable I was with this movie growing up. The fight scene in the villa after his car blows up is still one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, growing up has also shown a new uncomfortable light on the abusive treatment of Lai by just about everyone in this movie, how fundamentally weird the scene where Frank fights off a bunch of guys by covering his shirtless body in oil is, how lazy some of the plot development is and I had totally forgotten the ending, mostly because it fails to land with any substantial impact after the truck fight sequence clearly lifted from Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Ultimately, The Transporter is about a middle-aged bald guy who does a lot of commuting in a BMW, which makes it sound like the story of the average BMW owner, but which turns into action movie junk food with oiled-up fistfights, great chases, fun characters and impressive stunt work.
Basically, it’s like The Fast And The Furious but for the sort of person that cares just as much about the German executive sedan in their garage as a teenager cares about their slammed and busted Mazda RX7. And maybe has a 401(k).
I’m off to listen to this movie’s soundtrack, so that’s all from me. Now let’s hear from those of you that emailed with your thoughts, opinions and hot takes about The Transporter:
Jalopnik Deputy Editor Michael Ballaban:
As you well know, I deeply respect and admire all that you do. I am sure the perfect and splendid readers who enjoy the Jalopnik Movie Club series feel the same.
You recently were talking about The Transporter in the office. I, like the obnoxious busybody that I am, immediately interjected myself into the conversation you were having with Kristen to boorishly lament that the BMW 7 Series in the movie didn’t actually exist. Well it did, sort of. Only for the movie. You told me to email you that little factoid.
Here is that factoid.
The car used in the film was a BMW 750il complete with a V12, according to TheTransporterMovie.net, but fitted with a manual transmission by BMW for “action” purposes (they called it a 735i in themovie, but supposedly it was genuinely a V12 model). BMW never made another manual V12 7 Series. But they should have.
Anyways, that’s all.
Love and Blessings Always,
I thought the movie did a great job featuring true sleeper cars. Oversized German sedans with a few tasteful mods. It’s gets into Bond Q Branch territory later in the series, but watching that Audi flip around in the original was awesome.
If a bald John Basedow shot a really long BMW Commercial.
For a movie titled Transporter, I was sort of expecting more driving. But, to make up for the lack of tire squealing cornering, thankfully, the writers graced us with plenty of sweet choreographed fights. Once you lower your expectations, this movie shines for what it really is, just a decent action movie you’ll be glad you didn’t spend your money on in 2002.
Don’t get me wrong, the Frank Martin that the writers crafted appeals to my lowkey OCD. A driver that keeps his car clean, is meticulous about schedules, dresses in well-fitting clothing, and has some driving skill. That’s totally my bag. It probably helps that Statham bears a passing resemblance to Mr. Clean.
But after his BMW blows up and he swaps into a Mercedes then various other small French cars, I almost fell asleep with how predictable it was.
I did particularly like the fighting scenes. In some ways, Statham was almost like a poor man’s Jackie Chan or Jet Li with how creative he got when surrounded by superior numbers. If you told me that I’d be watching a dozen men oil themselves on a Tuesday night, I would laugh, but Statham makes it almost believable to watch like, “ya, that’s totally plausible.”
And did he have to remove his shirt so many times? It’s almost as if Statham has a rider that he must be shown shirtless for at least two minutes of screen time or he walks.
In this movie we see the following: A woman drinks through a straw, a man eats with his hands, and an inspector drinks from a cup.
“Chacun voit midi à sa porte…” I remember the The Transporter differently when I first viewed it many years ago. This film in particular is what cemented the Jason Statham action films personally. This was his genesis as it first time I witnessed his martial arts. It’s strange though. I remember being enthralled by this movie when I first watched it. Yet this particular viewing I was rather shocked. I guess it hit me at the right age when it was released because it’s not really a good movie.
Jason plays rigid wheelman Frank Martin; a transporter who delivers whatever, wherever with but a few questions and large payment. I previously remember Frank as this mysterious and cool character but now it appears extremely one-dimensional. The spoils of many Statham movies after perhaps. Unfortunately most the characters suffer stereotypical complexes and rather cringe worthy performances with the exception of François Berléand as Inspector Tarconi. I still believe he nailed his part.
The BMW 7 series is polarizing this film. With it’s trick modifications and being a manual to boot! It presents itself on screen very well and I believe this was the best way describing Franks personality to the audience despite being an obscure way of accomplishing this. The vehicular action itself is definitely sedate compared to explosive way films have been progressing in the style of ‘The Fast and the Ridiculous’. For what it’s worth the film does feature some good scenes and scenarios in this area and it was certainly acceptable for its era.
Admittedly I like the premise, but in the grand scheme the plot is on the strange side with equally strange encounters. It always seems like Plan B or C is being chosen because the convulsion allows for more interesting fights or escapes. Those bicycle pedals are pure magic on that oiled up floor! So is the farmer with the perfect skydiving plane [and parachute]. Lets also not forget the Metal Gear Solid Nikita like missile that blows up the stove in Franks house. I suppose “Impossible n’est pas français.”
Movie: This is one of Statham’s early efforts and it shows with sped up fight scenes, quick cuts, and rather wooden acting. This is film that I believe hasn’t aged that well and realistically wasn’t particularly strong overall. C it is.
Car Movie: It does feature a decent selection and scenarios involving vehicles. It’s not completely stellar in this regard as various scenes cause noticeable breaks with regards to vehicles. The Black BMW 7 was a fantastic choice though. I’ll give it a B.
The Transporter - A damn fine movie.
And that wraps it up for this week’s Jalopnik Movie Club review! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with their takes, which I encourage you all to do for next week!
Speaking of next week, we’ll be reviewing Dude, Where’s My Car?, which probably everyone has seen, but is unfortunately only available to rent or buy. Either way, be sure to collect your thoughts and write in with your opinions and hot takes to justin at jalopnik dot com.
In the meantime, sound off below about the good and bad of The Transporter and all of its hopelessness, and see you all next week!