In the beginning, there was Luc Besson. This master of over-the-top Eurotrash thrillers wrote the script for what in 2002 became The Transporter, the metal-bending saga of a driver-for-hire delivering “packages” at high speed for shady European customers. Jason Statham played Frank Martin, the eponymous Transporter, as a human wrecking ball in a sober black suit. The film spawned two sequels and now, inevitably, a TV series.
Chris Vance (Burn Notice, Rizzoli & Isles) takes over from Statham in Transporter: The Series, but the concept remains the same. Frank (now identified as being an SAS alum) continues to take work from both sides of the legal line, following three iron-clad rules he regularly breaks:
- Never change the deal.
- No names.
- Never open the package.
He shares a Cap Roux villa with a garage full of high-end Audis he frequently wrecks – either Audi sponsors him, or he has a very forgiving insurance agent. Returning from the films is Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand), who has a man-crush on Frank; new to the entourage is Frank’s office manager Carla (Andrea Osvárt) and master mechanic Dieter (Charly Hübner). Who knew the delivery business paid well enough to support all this?
So what happens during a typical episode? Let me describe them to you – all of them, at the same time:
- Frank gets a job to transport a package in a ridiculously short time.
- Either the package is a sexy young woman in a very short dress, or one comes with the package, or Frank finds one along the way.
- The Eurobaddie-of-the-week’s henchmen try to waylay Frank, but Our Hero beats the snot out of them, wrecks their cars, or both.
- Frank realizes the client is playing a double game/there’s a tracker on the package/someone’s told the bad guys what Frank’s doing, so he changes his plans (violating Rule #1).
- He rescues the sexy young woman in the short dress from the baddies; in return, she has PG-rated sex with him (breaking Rule #3 if she’s the package).
- Frank fights off more henchmen until he finally goes up against the Big Bad (who may also be the client), whereupon Frank beats the snot out of him, wrecks his car, or both.
- Frank makes the delivery, presumably gets paid, bids adieu to the sexy young woman in the short dress, and moves on to next week’s adventure.
Vance’s take on Frank Martin is to Statham’s what Roger Moore’s James Bond was to Sean Connery’s. Statham’s Frank was basically a blunt instrument, the kind of man who could put a bad guy through a tenth-floor window and not feel bad about it. He was a bloke, his rough edges fighting to get out of his suit. Vance is smoother, prettier, more charming, more at home in a tie and clean white shirt. He’s a rogue with a twinkle in his eye, not a bulldozer. While that’s easier to watch week after week, it’s harder to believe he’s a badass. Statham looks like he’s stopped many a fist with his face. Why isn’t Vance’s nose all busted up?
But I forget – this is Luc Besson’s universe. Black is the primary color – black cars, black suits, black skirts, black guns. Everyone (except Dieter and the Inspector) is hot. The eye candy isn’t just for the guys: Vance has to take off his shirt at least once every episode. All the women are young, beautiful, and contractually obliged to wear stripper heels and dresses that fit like shrink-wrap with hemlines that stop well north of their knees. Carla often dresses like she’s going to a club even though works at home – even in the middle of the day. (I haven’t yet seen Violante Placido (The American), whose character replaces Carla’s in the second season, but there’s no reason to expect her to be any more modest.) If Frank’s mum ever shows up for a visit, I don’t doubt she’ll be hot, too.
Because it’s Besson’s spawn, none of it makes much sense. First of all, what happened to FedEx? For what Frank’s clients must be paying him, they could charter their very own jet to get the packages to their destinations, with fewer lurking bad guys to deal with. Why does Frank always end up driving down little country roads perfect for ambushes, instead of sticking to the freeways? And with all the money the bad guys have, why can’t they afford better henchmen? The baddies may outnumber Frank ten to one, but just like the old-time Chinese kung fu movies, they queue up to take him on one at a time, with predictable results. This leads to the show’s greatest failing: Frank never seems to have to work very hard to get out of his many scrapes.
Yes, I know this isn’t supposed to be Mad Men. It’s not about tight plotting or deep characterization; it’s about pretty bodies and fast cars and crashes and elaborate fights. You watch it the way you eat cotton candy. Keep that in mind and you’ll probably have some fun – those empty calories sure are tasty.
The series is a co-production by Canada’s QVF and France’s Atlantique Productions. While it sometimes goes on location to Europe, much of it is shot in Toronto and its surroundings. The language can be rougher than American basic cable will allow, and the actresses periodically lose what little they’re wearing. Prepare for sound dropouts and blurred bits if you see this in the U.S.
Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. His near-future thriller South includes two car chases and a short skirt. Because his international thriller Doha 12 is set in New York City in the winter, everyone walks and stays full dressed. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.