-By Daniel Eagan

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Although it was belittled by some critics, the first Transporter, released in 2002, had some of the best action sequences of the year, as well as a plot too derivative to take seriously. It also featured an impressive turn by Jason Statham as Frank Martin, a getaway driver with a strict moral code and blistering martial-arts skills. Transporter 2 switches the locale from France to Miami, softens the formula a bit, but still delivers the kind of vivid, pounding action that B-movie fans crave.

Between jobs, Frank is temping as a chauffeur for Jack (Hunter Clary), the young son of drug-enforcement official Jeff Billings (Matthew Modine) and his beautiful but neglected wife Audrey (Amber Valletta). When Jack is kidnapped during a doctor's appointment, Frank is implicated. Recalling an earlier vow he made, Frank has to avoid the police and find the bad guys himself to rescue the boy.

Helped by his friend Tarconi (François Berléand), a French detective conveniently vacationing in Miami, Frank zeroes in on Gianni (Alessandro Gassman), an unhinged drug lord with access to a deadly virus. Gianni's gang includes Dmitri (Jason Flemyng), a dimwitted Russian thug; Lola (aspiring model and rock singer Kate Nauta), a sadist who likes to strip to her lingerie before opening fire; and 20 or so anonymous pugs who serve as sparring partners for Frank. The fights escalate in intensity until Frank is battling Gianni aboard a pilot-less jet that's crash-diving straight into the ocean.

Plot elements that haven't been lifted from Man on Fire can easily be traced back to any number of B-movies, such as producer and co-screenwriter Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita template. The posturing villains who overact shamelessly and the pointless dithering between fights and chases evoke prime Jackie Chan films as well. With cars that can fly and characters who can outrun bullets, to say nothing of a MacGuffin that consists of colored water in glass balls, Transporter 2 isn't competing for any screenwriting awards.

But no one choreographs action quite like Cory Yuen. A former classmate of Chan's, Yuen has acted, choreographed a who's who of Hong Kong stars, and directed movies like So Close. He does his best work in tight, confined settings, like a doctor's office crowded with medical equipment in this movie. Yuen's fights are crisp, logical and hard-hitting, if never quite believable, and they move so fast you don't mind how fundamentally silly they are.

Statham has clearly trained a lot since the last film: He handles props better, and his moves are more fluid. His acting has improved, too. His affection for Jack is low-key but sincere, and his restraint throughout the film is refreshing. Apart from Gassman and Nauta, the rest of the cast plays it straight, making Transporter 2 one of the most efficient and likable chop-socky films in a long while.

-Daniel Eagan

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