02 May 2006

Love Actually/ The Transporter 2

Everyone needs a guilty pleasure. Love Actually is a guilty pleasure par excellence; The Transporter 2 is (largely) a flop. Though it should be noted that the first Transporter is a guilty pleasure to rival Love Actually - it might even surpass it.

Much like Bridget Jones Diary and Notting Hill, Love Actually is a delightful feel-good romantic comedy that features a power-house cast and a lot of very funny moments. I generally am disappointed with movies that try to cram 5 or 6 narratives running parallel to each other into a larger whole, but this one does a decent job. It doesn't get completely ridiculous about somehow connecting everyone, and it's surprisingly skillful with negotiating so many characters without making them all caricatures. Though some aren't really fleshed out, none are really flat - it's well done. Although it ultimately succumbs to the impulse to load on the sap, it's not overly saccharine - some stories are left unresolved, or rather wistful, and the ones that do receive an ├╝ber happy ending are balanced with a generous dollop of comedy. It doesn't rush right into the lovey-dovey stuff, either - it starts out somewhat cynical, allowing for a period of adjustment, so that you can get on board and cheer for the happy endings without feeling completely emasculated. And there's enough lewd humor sprinkled throughout that you never feel like you've completely overdosed on mush.

The Transporter 2, unfortunately, is mostly pretty dull, and doesn't even begin to approach the excellence of The Transporter (1). The only thing it has going for it, which actually does make it worth watching, albeit with one finger hovering over fast forward, are the fight scenes. The choreography is incredible - it's really like watching modern dance. There's a lengthy scene involving multiple "bad guys" being subdued with a fire house that is simply stunning. The other perk of the movie would theoretically be Kate Nauta, the vilainess who can't seem to bear the confinement of clothing, and thus runs around blasting everything in sight to bits with two machine guns wearing nothing but skimpy underwear. Why is she only wearing underwear, even when it seems directly detrimental to the task at hand? Who knows, but honestly, I don't mind that much. Or at least, I didn't at first, until I realized that I'd much prefer a woman with a more attractive body to be playing the role - I meean, if you're going to put someone in as eye-candy, make them good looking, eh? She's just too damn skinny. At first it seems hot, until you realize that super model bodies are kind of creepy. She has almost no body fat, but no muscle either. It's weird.

The plot is total rubbish, and has gaping holes in it. Again, this wouldn't really be a problem, if it weren't so damn boring. Action movies don't need to have intricate plots - they just need enough momentum to keep you interested. This one just doesn't, really. Though I was really impressed when they crashed an airplane into the sea while the two main characters were fighting on it - I had just been thinking, man, it's so lame how they always manage to save the plane somehow*. What's really missing though, is personality. The fantastic thing about the first Transporter movie is that it's a throwback to action movies of old, like Commando. Jason Statham is, in fact, my number one candidate for an Arnold Schwarzenegger successor, and let me tell you, that means a lot, because I LOVE Schwarzenegger movies**. Statham is a raging badass - in fact, he's got Arnold beat here, because he's not only a fighting machine, he's also one of the best drivers to grace the screen in years. So rad. But he's also got Arnold's charm. The real secret to an entertaining action movie, after great action, of course, is puns. Great puns. The first Transporter movie had them, but this one really doesn't, so much. In fact, Statham seems incredibly wooden, and not much fun. His "rules", so amusing in the first movie, now seem really more irritating than anything else. Finally, to be honest, the action was awesome, but the suspension of disbelief required was really straining my resources. I mean, I think that it might be fair to set a maximum on the number of times that a stunt can involve a car flying through the air in an incredibly precise fashion - you wanna launch the car, spinning, into a crane such that the crane will snag the bomb attached to the bottom of the car just before it explodes while you land safely across the harbor, fine. But you can't have your cake and eat it too - you've got to cut the scenes where you leap from one parking garage to the other in order to evade the cops. Save it for the third movie, eh?

*Actually, I was wondering something else, namely, what I would have thought of the movie had it ended with the plane on which the two main characters were fighting crashing in the sea. On the one hand, it would be interesting to just end the movie there - that would really throw people for a loop, eh? Slavoj Zizek was recently mentioning how, when he first saw Ben-Hur in Slovenia, it had been censored such that it ended right after the famous chariot race, and he had thought it was one of the most profoundly existential movies he'd ever seen. I don't think an abrupt ending would have made this movie profound, but it would have been kind of cool.
Of course, this would also imply that the good guy failed to save the day, which leads to another interesting alternate ending, namely, showing what happened after the good guy failed to save the day. It would probably be a flop, because really, most movies, and especially action movies, despite the way that they seem to be about some sequence of events, are really about watching someone badass do cool things. Lose the hero, lose the movie.

**The Rock is the other possible candidate, and the one apparently favored by Arnold, if you go off his cameo in The Rundown. The Rundown is an excellent movie, and The Rock is fairly badass, and has a pretty good personality, especially for making wise-cracks and puns, but there's something missing. I mean, as I said, Statham has the added bonus of being a high-tech, incredible driver badass, in addition to knowing several different styles of fighting. So he's got a one up there. But he also does better with the wise-cracks - The Rock has a bit too much of a sensitive side to be fully convincing. He always seems like a really nice guy, even when he's beating people up.
I had high hopes for Vin Diesel, but I was so appalled by XXX that they were immediately shattered. Not at all a badass - his stunts, though impressive, belong in an Xtreme Sports reel, not in an action movie - and the whole romance thing? Are you kidding me?
Matt Damon is just not badass enough. Sorry.
Chuck Norris is amazing, but he's his own category. I'm talking about Arnold successors, not badasses in general.

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