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'Transporter 2' delivers fewer thrills than first film

It's been three years since we last ran into Frank Martin. He'd made quite an impression in ''The Transporter" as a one-man delivery service for the underworld, speeding all over Europe in his black BMW, breaking bones, barely speaking, and, eventually, freeing dozens of Chinese slaves from a trailer. He stopped to make love to a dame. He embarrassed her prissy father. And, on one occasion, he took out a crew of thugs while covered in crude oil. Those were good times. And under only the direst circumstances should they be regurgitated.

But because in the movie industry you can always have way too much of a good thing, here comes ''Transporter 2," a sequel that makes it clear that the outrageous antics of the first movie had a one-time-only charm.

Frank drives an Audi now, and he's traded Europe for Miami, where in this sequel all he transports is a strangely articulate tot from home to school. Holy Noggin network! It's not exactly plowing your car into passersby along the French Riviera, but, really, what is? As played by the impenetrable Englishman Jason Statham, Frank is still coolly fastidious, even while chauffeuring a boy who can't solve his riddles. But Frank is also a little pathetic. ''Transporter 2" has him engaged in a new line of work you would expect from ''Transporter 8."

Nonetheless, when the usual clan of extremely fit, hypersexual Euro baddies kidnaps the boy, Frank speed-walks to the rescue. Who he finds is a greedy Italian villain worthy of a ''Die Hard" spoof. Yes, Alessandro Gassman plays the part with relish and every other condiment at the snack bar: He's not acting; he's hot-dogging. And he's having a good time with this fiendish throwback. (Honestly, is it fashionable any longer for a villain to ask that a $5 million ransom be paid in nonsequential $100 bills?)

When the boy is returned after 35 minutes, we know there's more bad news to come. And Frank is there to uncover it, along the way rebuffing sexual advances from the boy's mother (Amber Valletta) and the villain's lethal weapon of a girlfriend (Kate Nauta). Sorry, ladies, he's all business. ''Your son is infected with a deadly virus," he tells the kid's mother. ''Now anyone who comes into contact with him is going to die."

According to the Russian scientist who whipped it up, the virus is a ''recombinant, double-morphing" something or other -- the accent lost me. But that infected child is just the start of a dopey plot that, among other nonsense, requires Matthew Modine, who is worse than usual as the boy's daddy, to do quite a lot of coughing.

The film provides occasions for Statham to knock us out as he gracefully knocks off anonymous goons with kicks and props (look out for those watermelons). He does all this while wearing his driver's get-up of a black suit and tie over a crisp white shirt. One assortment of nasties is swept into a dumpster. Another is put away with a fire hose that the indestructible Frank turns on only as a finishing move. But, Frank's impossible ditching of a bomb aside, the movie lacks the spectacular sense of the ridiculous that made its predecessor so special.

The screenwriters of both movies, Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, and the director of the first, Corey Yuen, assumed that we'd seen it all, and kept trying to pop our eyes from our heads with a campy plot and formidable stunt craft. This sequel is what you find in a Tupperware container spinning in a microwave. The director, Louis Leterrier, is not as ruthlessly efficient as either Yuen or his hero. He throws in too many rinky-dink, clumsily edited car chases and several fight scenes with as much pow as flat soda.

The first movie didn't have a spare moment to peek in the rearview mirror. On too many occasions in this sequel, the camera stops to rubberneck at the pileups and cars crashed in slow motion. What had the makings of a crisp, confident action vehicle comes down with a case of the Cannonball Runs.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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