|Never change the deal||No names||Never look in the package|
Many people were looking forward to this film as a break from the EXTREME action that seemed to be clogging up the screen in the summer of 2002; and while some of them wouldn't agree, mostly it delivers.
The film lives or dies on the competence of Jason Statham, who does deliver: it's true that this isn't the world's most demanding role, but he turns in a workmanlike performance. Physically he's just right: he has enough grace (apparently he's a former Olympic diver as well as having had some martial arts training) to project the idea of man and machine as one. In a way, this is a martial-arts film about driving.
That said, the best part of the film is the opening sequence. Just as a James Bond film starts with a demonstration of who the hero is and what he's about, here we see Frank Martin (Statham) driving the getaway car for a group of amateurish bank robbers. Yes, it's a car chase, but it's a very very good car chase - one of the best I've seen for quite a few years, and I'm not averse to the genre.
Unfortunately, once the film settles into its main plot, things break down a bit. Martin breaks his professional rules by looking into the package he's transporting; it turns out to be Lai (Shu Qi). Then the bad guys try to kill him, he tries to outwit them, and so on. This could have been a screwball comedy if either of the leads spoke more...
The stunts and action sequences are certainly energetic and loud, but for me at least never quite crossed over into complete mindlessness - there's always just about a reason for the fight in the pool of motor oil in the bus station, or the jump from a Cessna onto a speeding truck, or... and so on. The final sequence did seem a bit convenient, as the bad guys really have no particular reason all to gather in one place, and the film ends quite abruptly afterwards, but overall it just about holds together. What's perhaps worst is that our hero spends most of his time not actually driving...
In other words, it comes through on entertainment; this is the sort of film to see if you enjoyed Arnie's earlier films, rather than the more recent adrenalin-fests that action films have become.
The seams in the collaboration between Corey Yuen and Luc Besson are very clear, and one suspects that Besson got the worst of it; it would be intriguing to see what he could have done with a different director.
Overall: worth a rental, good-quality mindless fun, but disappointing to those who had hoped for more.