There's something so hackneyed about Transporter: The Series that it's almost agreeable. Almost. Inspired by the Luc Besson-produced action trilogy of the same name, even the title's suffix 'The Series' begs you to see this as a throwback to the '80s. (Or maybe even the late-'70s, given a direct reference to Smokey & the Bandit.) This is a Franco-Canadian production with a distinctive flavour of something nobody else would contemplate making; because, really, who wants a TV version of The Transporter? And without its star Jason Statham's involvement (half the reason the movies appealed to people), you're left with Chris Vance as a physically competent but dull replacement. The British actor at least gets to keep his natural accent, fights well, and looks good in a well-tailored suit, but that's the only positives I can scrape together. But to be honest, steely gazes and snapping the odd bad guy's neck is all the show really wants from him.
For the uninitiated, Transporter's premise concerns mysterious freelance courier Frank Martin (Vance), who gets into life-or-death situations while ferrying things around—only this time you don't have to wait years in-between exploits, just days. What a boon! In the first episode "Trojan Horsepower" (which was episode 2 in France, and episode 7 in Germany—proving how interchangeable the show is), Frank had to deliver an eco-friendly engine to Paris for its grand unveiling at a prestigious motor show, together with its inventor's pretty daughter Trina. Sounds easy? Well, Frank and Trina were pursued by assailants sent by The Wolf, a hitman hired to destroy the prototype by automotive bigwigs that'll lose financially if the breakthrough goes public. Cue lots of car chases that wouldn't make Jeremy Clarkson's pulse quicken, and largely bad performances from European actors speaking in a second language.
The idea behind the episode is bonkers but, nevertheless, you can well imagine a Transporter movie using the exact same concept for a potential fourth movie. The problem is, in a movie you'd have renowned action star Jason Statham to savour, lots of million dollar stunts, inventive violence, and very sexy women. In a TV version, you have a brief moment with a topless bather, and a ridiculous scene where Vance stands on the end of a car to prevent it see-sawing off a bridge. And he doesn't even think to get his fat friend Dieter (Charly Hübner) to add his weight to the car'd rear, so they can rescue the poor woman stuck inside the vehicle.
The Transporter: The Series was never going to be high art, but I expected something more thrilling from a show that solely exists to deliver high-speed car chases, bruising fights and tongue-in-cheek sexiness. It just makes you realise how fantastic production standards are on Strike Back just now, which does a much better job with its choreography, camera-work and location filming. There's just something intrinsically vapid and sub-par about Transporter, which perhaps reached it's hilarious nadir when Frank had a climactic fight sequence completely ruined by badly overdubbed shouts of support from his buddy ("Go on Frank! Very good, hit him! The shovel, Frank! Hit him! This is good!") It was moments like this where so-bad-it's-good status beckoned, but the show didn't quite embrace its own ludicrousness to justify that get-out clause.
written by Steve Lightfoot / directed by Brad Turner / 4 January 2012 / HBO Canada