Jason Statham’s departure from the moderately successful and cartoonishly fun “Transporter” franchise, as the actor told Vulture this past spring, was purely a business decision. The films’ producers had asked him to sign on for three more films — without seeing a script, Statham said, and for less money for three movies than he normally would get paid for one.
EuropaCorp went ahead and made “The Transporter Refueled” without him, substituting Ed Skrein (“Game of Thrones”) in the role of elite courier Frank Martin. Unsurprisingly, the new movie is a cut-rate affair, with a charisma-free leading man and an inane, slapdash story line.
“Refueled” continues Frank’s adventures as a high-priced deliveryman for sketchy clients. Here, his client and cargo turn out to be three women in identical black dresses and blond wigs who have just robbed a bank. A fourth is guarding Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson), who is being held hostage as leverage, compelling Frank to assist the women in a convoluted revenge scheme against the Eastern European mobster (Radivoje Bukvic) who kidnapped them years ago, forcing them into prostitution.
The four actresses — Loan Chabanol, Tatiana Pajkovic, Wenxia Yu and Gabriella Wright — are, respectively, French, Danish, Chinese and British. Between their heavy accents and Skrein’s pudding-thick Cockney delivery, I could barely discern half the dialogue. Never mind that the bad guys, played by a crew of Russian, Serbian and German performers, are equally unintelligible. Action is the order of the day here, not chitchat. The script, by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Luc Besson, is in service of car chases, fight scenes and shootouts, which are filmed with a workmanlike efficiency by Camille Delamarre (“Brick Mansions”).
Most of it is ho-hum, with the exception of a scene in which two people jump from the belly of an airplane that is about to take off into the sun roof of Frank’s car. A short while later, the car goes airborne off a ramp, landing in an airport boarding tunnel. That’s neat.
The first “Transporter” delivered an unexpected kick, courtesy of Statham, who made for a brooding, magnetic — and reliably kinetic — action hero. Skrein is an inferior stand-in, scowling like his predecessor, but lacking Statham’s cool, coiled power. This vehicle may have been filled with gas, but the new driver can’t make it go.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains action violence, coarse language and sensuality. 96 minutes.