It's big. It's loud. It's unapologetically stupid. And yet, Judge Bill Gibron believes this hyperactive action film is one of the best popcorn movies in a long time.
Poison in his veins. Vengeance in his heart.
Sometimes big, dumb, and loud are all a film fan really needs. On occasion, the aesthetic barriers we build up over years of quiet dramas, satiric comedies, hackneyed horror, and distilled directorial brilliance require an overly large entertainment enema to help us keep things in personal perspective. Without it, we threaten to become irrational bores, looking down our all-knowing noses at anything not forged within a personal memory of a dysfunctional family, created by a filmmaker using digital technology, or loaded with insufferable subtitles. So thank the cinematic stars that something like Crank exists. Created by a pair of novice directors with a clear post-modern Xbox ideal and bloated with the kind of high-energy invention the action genre desperately needs to stay relevant, this combination of fun and ferocity announces itself as the next evolutionary stage in big-screen bombast. Using a kitchen sink approach to visual flamboyance and milking its mega-machismo for all its musky value, Crank is uncharacteristically daring in a way we haven't seen in a long time. Besides, it provides the kind of merry mental suppository that helps keep most film fans sane.
Facts of the Case
Professional hit man Chev Chelios (Jason Statham, Snatch) is dying. He's been given the "Asian Cocktail" by crime competitor Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo, Standoff) and has only a few hours to live before the blood in his system starts to coagulate and his heart stops. According to his doctor (Dwight Yoakum, Sling Blade), he has to keep his adrenalin levels high, lest the drug block his receptors and kill him. So Chev begins a citywide crime spree, desperate to find Verona, save his life, and hook up one last time with his dimwitted girlfriend Eve (Amy Scott, Felicity). With the help of his informant pal Kaylo (Efren Ramirez, Employee of the Month) and a body bloated on energy drinks, No-Doze, and various pharmaceuticals (both legal and illegal), Chev hopes he can stay alive long enough to get his payback. As long as he can Crank his system into overdrive, he just might have a chance.
Requiring the creation of a new line of clichés, and bound to be misunderstood by individuals still in the formative stages of their art form acumen, Crank is a rip-snorting roller coaster on 'roids, a smash-bang, crash-'em-up two-fisted thrill ride that rewires the circuits of your standard motion picture appreciation and kicks your expectations square in the narrative nutsack. It's not out to make deep points about loyalty and duty and doesn't want to draw its characters in complicated shades of light and dark. In this invigorating exercise in excess, newbie directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor take the tricks they've learned from George Miller, James Cameron, John Woo, and Quentin Tarantino, filtered them through a Playstation paradigm, tossed in a little '70s exploitation, and sprinkled the whole thing with a self-deprecating directness that keeps the entire overpumped project fresh and ferocious. Like Speed inside the human body or a neat little lift from the '50s noir classic D.O.A., our determined directorial pair use the clothesline premise (hit man has a few precious hours to find the people who poisoned him) to fashion a highlight reel bloated with resume-defining fare. In between the smash cuts, the moments of managed quirk, the sledgehammer dialogue, and the pure post-modern adrenal drive, the standard old action film gets a welcome whack in the wobblies.
Carrying the entire film on his well-formed U.K. shoulders, Brit badass Jason Statham uses his Transporter training to push the envelope of acceptable antihero boundaries. Eyes full of fire, face clouded by a testosterone-tripped splash of stubble, Statham turns that charmer Chelios into a laser-guided missile of mayhem, unable and unwilling to stop until he finds an antidote and/or kills everyone responsible for his current corpse-bound state. It's the kind of performance that appears effortless at first, more casting than true thespian skill. But if one looks closer, they start to see the shades Statham brings to the role. He is both funny and foul, captivating in the way he reacts to situations both enormous (a first act trip through a mall, Blues Brothers style) and small (a brief exchange between the actor and co-star Dwight Yoakum is easy and effective). Certainly there are times when all that's required of Statham is a sour disposition and a pumped-up body, ready to rock and recoil, but Neveldine and Taylor try to keep Chelios from being a one-dimensional tripwire Terminator (the movie even has a little levity with such a concept toward the end). By choosing Statham, they've guaranteed a melding of cockiness and confusion that's easy to identify with.
Since this is mostly a one-man show, the rest of the cast just needs to be present, accounted for, and plainly playing their part for Crank to succeed. Oddly enough, the supporting players do an equally effective job of selling their storyline stance. As Verona, the madman whose lethal injection starts the ball rolling, Jose Pablo Cantillo is all teeth and terror. His hitman/mobster is wholly evil, but Cantillo tries to mask it via a subtle sense of honor and duty. Similarly, Napoleon Dynamite's Efren Ramirez plays Chev's gay sidekick, Kaylo. But instead of going the swish and lisp route that one might expect from such an overblown, unrealistic spectacle, Ramirez roots the performance in a sort of subliminal flamboyance, as if Kaylo's flighty fabulousness is constantly bubbling just below the surface. As the mandatory female eye candy, Amy Smart is a dumb blond delight. Reduced to either a sexual stunt piece or a clueless foil to her boyfriend's brazenness, she holds up quite well in a role that never gives her a chance to really shine. Like Yoakum, there are several other excellent actors scattered around the fringes of this film, faces that aren't necessarily new, but whose work here gives us pause to reflect on where we've seen them before. Toss in an L.A. that looks like a combination of Tony Montana's Miami circa 1983 and a screenshot from Grand Theft Auto, and you've got all the outer trappings of a terrific high-octane thriller.
But it's the imaginative and homage-laden work of Neveldine and Taylor that deserves the most attention here. Unafraid to explore the confines of acceptable big-screen spectacle, these former directors of photography (and purveyors of X-treme sport videos) are all about the camera. Lens placement, arcane angles, compositional viewpoint, and visual imagination are all part of their bountiful bag of tricks, yet these two are not beyond adding touches both authentic (Statham's naked ass peeking out from beneath a hospital gown) and surreal (a strip club optically "bulges" during a brawl) to exaggerate and expand their ideas. In essence, Neveldine and Taylor take the first rule of filmmaking to heart. They want to take us places and show us things that we've never ever seen before…even in a single-minded thrill ride. Through a combination of chutzpah and fearlessness, and a clear ingenious recognition that this may be their one-and-only shot at the motion-picture promised land, the pair delivers in a way that opens an audience's eyes to the possibilities of the medium. Like Miller's Road Warrior, Cameron's Aliens, Woo's Hard-Boiled, and Tarantino's Kill Bill, Crank creates a new niche in the fast and furious film type, and it's all because of what Neveldine and Taylor bring to the director's chair.
Still, there will be those who dismiss this film as an over-inflated excuse for blood, guts, firepower, and fisticuffs…and you know what, they'd be right. In the end, all action epics are cinematic excuses to bring excitement to a format mired in talking heads, deep emotions, and complicated interpersonal problems. Movies don't always have to be serious. They don't have to maintain a certain level of dull decorum to get their point across. Not every entertainment needs to be the artistic equivalent of seared Chilean Sea Bass with a hot Arugala salad. Sometimes, we need the visual equivalent of a hamburger and fries—or in the case of Crank, a triple-decker bacon cheddar champ covered in a thick layer of chili and accompanied by a side of brown gravy-laced potato wedges. Sure, you'll feel guilty as hell for consuming this calorie-laden loveliness, and the pounds you put on may ruin your girlish/mannish physique, but the kind of comfort you get from a filmic meal like Crank is hard to beat. It's a belly busting, artery clogging, lay on the couch, and bloat like a beluga kind of entertainment respite. It's never going to be a gourmet experience. But for us cinematic gluttons, we who don't mind dining on mindless merriment now and then, Crank is the hot fudge sundae of cinema. Treat yourself, and you'll be puffy, pink, and well-rewarded.
For its arrival on DVD, Lionsgate gives Crank a wonderfully goofy digital presentation. In the area of bonus features, there are two terrific supplements. First is a full-length audio commentary/featurette/making of documentary, given the groan-inducing label of "Crank'd Out Mode." Similar to New Line's Infinifilm technology, this picture-within-a-picture novelty finds Neveldine and Taylor, actors Statham and Ramirez, and various crew and production personnel showing up to discuss and dish on the making of the movie. Our director's are delightfully cynical, discussing the quick scripting of the story (four days) and the casting of Chelios ("imagine Chev as A. C. Slater from Saved by the Bell"), while the producers ponder the potential audience for such an extravaganza. It's a nifty little bonus. Similarly, the "family-friendly" audio track removes the excessive expletives so that wee ones can enjoy the gore, gunfire, and gratuitous public sex scene without having to hear all those naughty dirty words. Finally, there is a series of trailers for everything from Saw III to Farce of the Penguins.
As for the sound and vision, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image captures the film's many optical nuances quite well. The colors are bright and vibrant, the details rich and distinct. As for the aural elements, the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround is wonderfully atmospheric. You really feel like you're hurtling down the highway with Chev and his '70s muscle car, and the occasional punk rock placed on the soundtrack is gob in your face glorious.
Go ahead, be a snob. Stick your well-honed auteur theory snout up at this 87 minutes of balls, ballistics, and bravado. Ignore the fact that Jason Statham is rapidly becoming a supersonic poster boy for artifice-free action heroes, and dismiss the delights inherent in seeing people, places, and things blown up for no good gosh-darned reason. Proving that their place in future endeavors is more or less secured, the creative team of Neveldine and Taylor turn Crank into something that soars directly into the baser facets of your jaded joy circuits. You'll laugh, you'll cheer, and you'll wonder why the residents of L.A.'s Chinatown are so lax in their acceptance of public displays of fornication. Between the bullets and the beatings, the gratuitous injections of ephenephrine, and the glimpses of Ramirez in full drag-queen mode, Crank displays more of what makes movies escapist fun than a dozen Steven Seagal shoot 'em ups. Oh…but that's right. You're above all this action-picture pomp. You're only satisfied when the characters speak in foreign languages and slow motion masks a typical Old West High Noon showdown. Crank craps bigger moments than those. It's a spectacularly stupid work of stunted cinematic genius.
Not guilty, except in a purely pleasurable way. Crank is hereby free to go, and Lionsgate is praised for taking a chance on this goofy, quirky title.
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Scales of Justice
• "Crank'd Out Mode" ... Commentary/Making Of/Documentary
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