‘The Transporter: Refueled’
Director:
Camille Delamarre
Stars: Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Apart from the Bond movies, no outfit is more inconsistent and all-over-the-place than the Luc Besson wing of EuropaCorp. A cottage industry of Eurotrash entertainments (and occasionaly serious fare), its wares veer drunkenly in quality, from inspired (“The Fifth Element,” “Lucy,” both helmed by Besson himself) all the way down to the lower dregs (“Taken 3,” “3 Days to Kill,” by, respectively, a Besson underling and McG), with everything in between. “The Transporter Refueled,” the reboot of a series once manhandled by Jason Statham, is, like the third “Transporter,” one of the dicey, tossed-off ones — generally uninspired and powerfully forgettable and often stupefying but not without its modest charms, even if it never lets your forget its primarily raison d’etre is to take your money.

One Ed Skrein is the replacement Frank Martin, the cucumber cool, handsome-suited driver-for-hire. Skrein is minutely more playful, even flirty, his working class English accent softened by a mild lisp. Still, he’s one of the only things in “Refueled” that’s close-ish to new. The plot manages to rehash elements of both already existing “Transporter” entries and Besson’s “Taxi,” which also featured supermodel bank robbers. Here, Martin is blackmailed into working for a bevy of vengeful, ostentatiously comely prostitutes, looking to take down a racket that kidnapped them into sexual slavery. Along for the ride is Martin’s epicure/old school horndog dad (Ray Stevenson). He even calls son “Junior,” which means Besson and company are at least ripping off a film that isn’t theirs, namely “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

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As an action god, Skrein lacks Statham’s force and thuggish scowl, and he’s even less able to conceal his embarrassment at the dodgy material. And with good cause. “Refueled” even appears to be accidentally set in 2010. A prologue starts in 1995, followed by the words “15 years later,” at which point Martin shows off tech that is definitively 2015, if not the near future. Did someone screw up the math? Almost certainly. It’s that kind of movie. There’s repeated, irrelevant citations of “The Three Musketeers” — with Stevenson, the Porthos of the 2011 iteration, within earshot — and the requisite parade of European actors pratfalling over dumb dialogue. Even Skrein is forced, with subtle panic running over his face, to utter one-liners that seem translated from French via computer program. 

In terms of ownage, “Refueled” regularly gets bogged down by its inane plot, and often forgets to, well, own. The action is generic, the climax a listless mess, and house director Camille Delamarre (who screwed up Besson’s “District B13” remake “Brick Mansions” too) likes to cut them to ribbons anyway. (Sloppy edits cover up things like a baddie being shot then being replaced by an obvious dummy tossed into the sea.) Sometimes Delamarre has the camera swerve in circles, making it look like a video game, which is appropriate since, during the fights at least, Skrein looks like a computer program of 1s and 2s, only less expressive.

Every great now and then it almost comes alive; there’s a smackdown with a rope that nearly equals the hose fight in “Transporter 2,” plus some funny business in a hallway fitted with filing cabinets. But the fun times are but momentary, interrupted by plot and its questionable politics, wherein its prostitute characters speak truth to power about being used by men in between shaking their asses for men. It can’t even do anything with Skrein on a motorboat, which is sad since Statham speeding around on sea (and then on land) was one of the goofy highlights of “2.” But keep some perspective: these Besson things get so much worse, but they also get so much better. “Refueled” manages the heroic feat of being both deeply disappointing and better than it ever had to be. I mean, at least it’s no “Taken 2.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge