Transporter 2 v Underclassman


Transporter 2 Cast:
Jason Statham as Frank Martin
Alessandro Gassman as Gianni
Amber Valletta as Audrey Billings
Katie Nauta as Lola
Matthew Modine as Mr. Billings
Jason Flemyng as Dimitri
Keith David as Stappleton

Underclassman Cast:
Nick Cannon as Tracy Stokes
Shawn Ashmore as Rob Donovan
Cheech Marin as Captain Victor Delgado
Roselyn Sanchez as Karen Lopez
Hugh Bonneville as Headmaster Powers
Kelly Hu as Lisa Brooks
Angelo Spizzirri as David Boscoe
Rob Bruner as Todd

The Tale of the Tape:
In the continuing interest of providing the best information for readers to make their weekend movie-going decisions, and for the sake of “killing two birds with one stone”, it seemed silly to write two separate reviews for this weekend’s two action movies.

“Transporter 2” and “Underclassman” are both dumb action movies. Neither of them are particularly good, although both are somewhat entertaining for different reasons. “Transporter 2” takes itself far too seriously, and yet, it’s hard not to laugh at how ludicrous some of it is, while “Underclassman” is far lighter, as it pays tribute to the classic ’80s action-comedy genre, but falters, because Nick Cannon isn’t nearly as funny as he thinks he is.

The Plots:
The sequel to 2002’s “The Transporter” takes Jason Statham’s Frank Martin to Miami where he’s moonlighting as a driver for the son of a federal drug commissioner. When the drug cartels kidnap the kid in order to inject him with a deadly virus, Frank is back in action, first to get their son back, but then to get a bit of revenge.

In “Underclassman”, Nick Cannon is bicycle cop Tre Stokes sent undercover at an elite prep school in order to infiltrate a car thieving ring and solve the murder of a student.

Both plots are pretty ridiculous, but at least we’ve only seen “Underclassman” a few times before while “Transporter 2” seems like an amalgam of every bad action movie cliché ever written. The latter is a shame since the premise for the character was so original and unique that it seemed like so much could be done with him rather than just throwing him into the type of dumb action movie plot that we’ve seen so many times before.

The Leading Men:
Both the stars of these two films came into their own in 2002, Statham with the original “Transporter” and Cannon with “Drumline”. While Statham has only gotten better, Cannon still hasn’t quite found his footing. Statham plays Frank Martin much like he did in the first film, but Cannon just gets more goofy and silly in order to to generate yucks; Statham exudes charm and grace, while Cannon is just annoying and unlikable. It’s why you can root for Martin to beat the bad guys and you don’t care so much whether Tre succeeds in his assignment, which makes a huge difference in the enjoyment.

The Supporting Cast:
Cannon at least has a much stronger cast for his film, including Cheech Marin and Shawn Ashmore, both who aren’t bad in their roles. Statham has to work with the likes of Matthew Modine, who gives such an over-the-top performance as the kidnapped child’s father that you can’t believe how far he’s fallen as an actor. Amber Valetta is not much better as his hot-to-trot wife who throws herself at Frank, and the two of them spend most of the movie arguing with each other.

Bring on the Bad Guys:
Both movies’ villains are pretty ridiculous, but at least “Underclassman” has a bad guy played by serious British dramatic actor Hugh Bonneville, well-cast as the school’s despicable headmaster who gives Cannon such a hard time throughout the movie. (He even gets into a fist fight!) Statham, on the other hand, gets another evil martial arts expert with an undistinguishable accent, as well as an immediate red card and a hefty fine for including a Russian henchman named… get this….Dimitri. “Transporter 2” is that dumb and obvious.

The “Hot Chicks”
“Underclassman” has lovely actresses Kelly Hu and Roslyn Sanchez in small roles as Cannon’s fellow police officer and his teaching love interest, both dressed very conservatively and showing almost no skin. Katie Nauta, the secondary villain of “Transporter 2” comes right out of a Bond film–think Grace Jones in “For Your Eyes Only”– wearing next to nothing for most of the film. The fact that the movie was able to get a PG-13 rating despite her mostly see-through lingerie is amazing, and it’s especially funny when her bad guy lover tells her to go “put some clothes on” and she comes back wearing a bra and panties for her final fight with Statham. Yeah, I think she’ll be getting the advantage.

The Action:
“Transporter 2” wins this category because the martial arts, choreographed by Corey Yuen, the director of the original movie, are cutting edge and innovative with many things you’ve never seen before… like a fight in which Frank uses a firehose to take down his opponents. Then again, the car chases and stunts are so insane and ridiculous that you have to laugh at the way they defy all the laws of physics. “Transporter 2” also ends with the now obligatory “fight on an out of control vehicle” which has been getting overused. Still, most of it harks back to ’90s action films while Cannon’s movie goes further back to the ‘80s for its rather bland car chases and fight sequences with nothing being particularly impressive. Oddly, both movies have scenes in which they ride water skis. Great minds think alike or just the obvious with all that water nearby.

Comedy and Humor:
There are probably a lot of things in “Transporter 2” which weren’t meant to be funny, but it certainly has the most unintentional laughs. The thing is that Jason Statham is quite entertaining without even trying hard to crack jokes, while Cannon just goes way out of his way to try to be funny, making goofy faces and speaking in a high voice. Cannon is trying to be Eddie Murphy, but he just doesn’t get that Murphy has charm and doesn’t need to over-exaggerate his punch lines to get laughs. Just in case you forget that “Underclassman” is from the writers of “Van Wilder,” there’s a juvenile gross-out scene with a cop getting the runs during a stakeout and having to use the bushes. Ew.

Direction and Production Values:
The directors of both movies have had previous releases this summer–Marcos Siega directed the dark comedy Pretty Persuasion and Louis Leterrier helmed Unleashed–but one has to be more impressed with what Siega does with a much smaller budget in “Underclassman”, especially how he uses music to drive the action, while Leterrier tends to flaunt and abuse his bigger budget in almost every scene.

The Bottom Line:
Neither of these movies would necessarily be something worth spending ten bucks on, but if you really MUST see at least one action movie this weekend and you can’t be talked out of it, then the lesser of the two evils is “Transporter 2”, only because Statham is amusing, and the stunts and fight scenes are quite impressive. Sure, it’s dumb fun and thinking too much about the story might hurt your brain, but by comparison, “Underclassman,” while not terrible, tries too hard to be funny and falters in its attempt to offer something for everyone.