A film review by Craig J. Koban
2006, R, 88 mins.
Jason Statham: Chev Chelios / Amy Smart: Eve / Dwight Yoakin: Doc Miles / Carlos Sans: Carlito / Jose Pablo Cantillo: Verona
Written and directed by Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
In terms of capturing my disbelief and suspending it hundreds of feet above my head, no film of recent memory has done so better than CRANK.
This is surely one of the most amusingly ridiculous action films that I have seen in many a moon. It has – at its foundation – a bare bones premise that it manages to eek out to fill an already sparse running time of 88 minutes. CRANK is many things; its loud, obnoxious, crude, vulgar, horrifically and gratuitously violent, hyper stylized to the point of inducing seizures, trashy, soulless, sexist, contrived, obscenely gruesome, and lacking in any semblance of decency, moral fibre, and logic.
Yet, for all of those reasons, and many more, I found CRANK to be one of the most surprising hoots of the early fall movie season.
It’s of no surprise that the film stars Jason Statham, who definitely has the market cornered on the September film season with his own unique brand of action films. If guys by the names of Eastwood and Wayne personified the genre of the Western, then Statham can take top honors for epitomizing a new film genre that I call “Cinema of Incredulity,” one that I coined while writing my review for last year’s inanely entertaining TRANSPORTER 2. These films, usually in the high-octane action arena, have a laughable and commendable level of self-awareness about just how improbably outlandish and preposterous they are at their cores. In my review of TRANSPORTER 2 I wrote that the film, “...commands more of my respect than contempt for its very willingness to be stupid. It's action scenes, which are numerous and have a lot of flair and gusto, leap well beyond the largest gulf of unlikely logic that you laugh both with and at them.”
I feel like I just may be plagiarizing my own work from that review for this one for CRANK, which may take top accolades away from even THE TRANSPORTER films for its willingness to jump over endless chasms of impossible reason and common sense. The overall hook of the film is pure, contrived cornball – a man must continually keep his adrenaline pumped to super human levels in order for the poisons in his system to not kill him. Some critics have compared CRANK to SPEED, which is both an apt and an unfair analogy.
Like SPEED, CRANK is able to command an incredible amount of consistent interest in its preposterous premise. However, CRANK is a truly heartless and unapologetically bawdy, B-grade exploitation film whose detestable, hardcore elements almost inspire as much cheerful laughter as they do shock and awe. As a work of edgy, slick, and intense action set pieces (that owe a huge debt to the works of Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino, and the Atari 2600 game console) CRANK is a perversely fun thrill ride that takes a sparse gimmick and maximizes it to its fullest. Beyond its schlocky elements, it also may be one of the funniest films I have seen this year.
And…as stated…at the heart of all of this unyielding, hard R rated silliness is the cool and detached charisma of Jason Statham, who has made a very successful career out of playing a super cunning and cool British tough guy even when in the face of the most outlandish mayhem and carnage. His often-underplayed performances sometimes allow these inane action films to have an inkling of believability. There is earnestness to Statham as an actor that gives credence to the proceedings. Sure, his character in CRANK is definitely a more of a loose emotional canon than his persona from the TRANSPORTER films, but Statham is still the solid anchor that makes CRANK a film to easily digest. A completely over the top actor would have been overkill to a film that already has too many elements that bask in overkill. He allows for our buy in to the overzealously absurd material.
Statham stars as Chev Chelios (not to be confused with Chris Chelios, Detroit Red Wing defensemen) who is a proficient hitman for a mobster named Carlito (Carlos Sanz). We are very quickly thrust into the story as we see him stumble out of bed after being poisoned by a viscous gangster named Verona (played by Jose Pablo Cantillo, channeling Pacino from SCARFACE as if on incredible amounts of speed). As he stumbles to his home theatre centre Chev discovers a DVD, which he plays. It highlights him being poisoned with the infamous "Beijing Cocktail" in his sleep. Unfortunately for Chev, he has only one hour to live.
Or…does he? Using his lightning quick wits, Chev goes on the prowl looking for some revenge, all while trying to find a way to cure himself of his deadly aliment. Doc Miles (the funny Dwight Yoakim) is Chev’s physician, but he is, alas, flying the friendly skies while Chev is dying. Chev does manage to get him on his cell phone and – by relaying his symptoms to him – the very wise Doc Miles is able to diagnose his condition. Even though there is nothing that Chev can do without a doctor to actually cure him, there is one thing he can do to ensure that his life last a bit longer than an hour. Simply put, he has to keep his adrenaline running high and for as long as he possibly can.
It is here where the film generates some of its most bizarrely dark laughs. Without the immediate aid of drugs, Chev barges into a convenience store and robs the place of any sugar coated candy and energy drinks he can muster. At one point he stabs two cans at the base and guzzles both with gusto and speed. Then, to even further boost his energy, he puts the pedal to the metal and engages the police in a high-speed pursuit. Picking fights also helps a great deal, as is the case where he goes into a largely black hip hop bar and threatens everyone by saying, “Who wants a piece of white meat?!”
This is followed by one inspired scene where he goes to hospital to get a shot of epinephrine, but fails to get anywhere. Thankfully for him, a local stoner tells him that nasal spray contains decent dosages of epinephrine. Logically, Chev goes for broke and gorges on tube after tube of nasal spray, often snorting two bottles at a time. As good as the highs he is able to achieve, Chev comes crashing down fast to the point where the poisons could take hold and make his heart stop. When he hits absolute rock bottom Chev is forced to lower himself to having very public sex with his girlfriend (played in a hilariously ditzy performance by Amy Smart) and grooving to the song “Achy Breaky Heart”, the later moment being a most perversely funny moment that made me laugh and laugh. Yet, just how much head banging to bad country music, sex on the street, and nasal spray abuse can his heart take? All I know is that listening to one Billy Ray Cyrus song would be enough to put me away for good.
Watching Statham parade around in one kinetic (and often horrifically bloody and violent) set piece after another is one of the film’s pleasures. The film has a delightfully infectious, subversive spirit and boundless energy in its craziness. As a film with absolutely zero pretensions, CRANK is a sly and breezy howler. The film has an overwhelming strength in terms of being so uniformly entertaining and watchable despite not having any redeeming qualities. It’s vile, repugnant, has a curious level of one dimensional sexism directed towards its female characters, and a main character that is such a violent and trigger happy madman that we often have to remind ourselves that he’s the protagonist. However, there are guilty pleasures to be had to seeing the adrenaline-fuelled Statham try to thwart those that are trying to kill him, all while digesting everything but the kitchen sink in order to get himself conscious. As a result, the film is sinfully enjoyable, in the purest sense of how all good exploitation films are. Also, the film is incomprehensibly dumb, which is…again…fitting.
CRANK was directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor and they have an obvious visual flair and talent. There are instances where their technical artifice both nurtures and hurts the film. Just about every cinematic trick in the book is thrown at the audience for some sort of visceral effect (whether it be fast and slow motion, disjointed images, hyper fast editing, animated icons and graphics, funky title cards, and so on). Surely, this type of intensely fast paced, MTV inspired artistic lunacy – it could be said – only assists the viewer with getting into the mindset of Chev. Unlike the unsavory visual overkill in films like DOMINO (where its techniques seemed superfluous for the sake of making the film look glossy), the director’s techniques here serve a thematic purpose. At times, we truly do feel like we as zoned out and hallucinatory as Chev himself. There are moments where the style of the film starts to become overbearing and, let’s face it, almost unbearably difficult to watch. Yet, the balance between its necessity to the story and it being a redundant entity is fairly leveled off. The look and feel of CRANK amps up the film for the proper twitchy effect, but if they went any further the film could have made our own hearts stop.
CRANK emerges as everything you hoped for in a Jason Statham quarterbacked action thriller of complete and utter incredulity. The films tears through it’s short 88 minute running time with its degenerate, hooligan-inspired audacity and tone. As a film that is loud, vulgar, incredibly straining on the eyes and ears, and has a premise so ludicrous that it defies the definition of the term “mindless,’ CRACK nevertheless has the ultimate redeeming quality of being a tenaciously enjoyable chase and kill flick. The film has a cartoonish and laughably moronic sensibility, but it's never dull or tedious, nor does it ever tell us to not check our brains at the door. As an outrageously entertaining and fast paced auctioneer designed like it was to be viewed by those with a severe form of ADHD, CRANK maintains a hardnosed and nutty conviction. Over-the-top and insipid films like this one have rarely been so much rollicking fun, and CRANK relishes in all of its wicked excesses.