Sunday, January 07, 2007


Rockstar Energy Drinks are plugged frequently throughout Crank, even in the credits, and it's an ideal match of film and synthetic mass-produced artificially-flavored beverage. Energy drinks are all about pumping your body full of stimulants, sugars and chemicals in order to produce a short, but pleasant, buzzy sensation. And the film Crank is designed exclusively for your slack-jawed, wide-eyed visual consumption, giving you a fleeting, but tingly, buzzy sensation.

Think of the film as a rather brief, largely uneventful mushroom trip. Provided you promise not to do any unnecessary thinking, giving yourself entirely over to the ludicrous cartoon vibe and maniacal senselessness, you will most likely have a terrific time, with only a slight headache and a desire for a long nap afterwards. Break the rules, start to actually consider the movie and how stupid it is, and you might experience irritating sensory overload. Just remember, know your DVD dealer and never rent more than you can handle.

So Rockstar Energy Drinks do quite well for themselves, branding-wise. The real loser here is Rockstar Games. They can't really do a live-action version of their best-selling "Grand Theft Auto" video game series now, because Mark Neveldene and Brian Taylor have gotten there first. Crank perfectly simulates not only the games' content - a crazed killer stalking city streets committing all manner of violent crimes in the service of a complicated and time-pressured "mission" - but their free-form, anarchistic, anything-goes spirit.

Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), in addition to possessing superhuman strength and endurance, will literally do anything to anyone in order to stay alive. You sense that, if revenge on his enemies required the liquidating of an entire university campus filled with puppies and adorable toddlers, Chev would not only pull the switch but laugh sadistically and masturbate whilst doing so. He doesn't give a fuck, and neither does the movie, and that's what makes it unpredictable and fun. Like Falling Down meets The Warriors, only without all those time-wasters like social commentary and, you know, story.

Chev wakes up feeling decidedly unwell. We get a few shots from his perspective right off the bat, and the prognosis isn't good. His vision's blurred, he's having sharp chest pains, he can't walk properly. A DVD set to play in his entertainment center explains the situation: Chev's a hitman, he recently assassinated a powerful Chinese crime lord (Keone Young) and now the cruel Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) has injected him with a poison called the Beijing Cocktail for revenge.

As Chev's personal physician (Dwight Yoakum) explains on the phone from Vegas, the Cocktail inhibits the body's ability to produce adrenaline. If Chev doesn't keep his adrenaline levels up, he'll die. So if Chev wants to remain alive long enough to kill Verona, he has to keep moving. The film's essentially one long chase sequence in sort-of real time, with Chev zipping around Los Angeles searching for bad guys, evading cops and devising clever ways to keep his adrenaline flowing.

Neveldine and Taylor make their writing and directing debuts with Crank, and their reliance on showy camera tricks and effects is excessive bordering on ridiculous. A few of the gimmicky shots actually work. Chev races through a mall's back corridors while talking to his doctor on a cell phone, and brief shots of Yoakum speaking on the other end of the line from the airport are projected on the walls in the background as Chev runs. It's quite effective, giving the impression of Chev trying to focus on the information he's receiving on the phone while doing three or four other, more strenuous activities at the same moment.

But just as often, the style's unnecessarily fancy and overblown, calling attention to itself instead of upping the film's intensity, energy or impact. The best moments aren't so much visual as comic. Chev's savage adventure turns out surprisingly funny, one of the few non-Guy Ritchie vehicles to give the extremely charismatic Statham a worthwhile part. Though their Tony Scott-inspired visual pyrotechnics occasionally threaten to derail the entire enterprise, Neveldine and Taylor have still managed to put together a highly watchable and gleefully over-the-top entertainment.

The casting, for example, really pays off once the initial gimmick has started to wear out its welcome. In addition to Statham and Yoakum, who gets a lot of mileage out of what's essentially a superfluous, expository role, Amy Smart does funny work as Chev's girlfriend Eve, who thought he'd been programming video games for a living rather than starring in one. In the film's most memorable scene, they come up with an inventive, if not entirely sanitary, solution to Chaz's little medical problem in the heart of LA's Chinatown.

Crank doesn't really care so much about the laws of medicine, physics or public decorum, but it does manage to keep to its own internal logic. For the most part. Occasionally, the film violates real Los Angeles geography - I doubt Chev, in his state, could navigate that quickly from Westwood to Koreatown, even with a stolen cab and motorcycle. Only once or twice does it show Chev actually slowing down, so when it happens, it's pretty noticeable.

A long scene in Eve's apartment really breaks the tone of the film. We're going, going, going, cutting quickly between different perspectives, locations and film stocks, and then all of the sudden we're having a nice, romantic dialogue in a sunny apartment. This would be the equivalent of Speed having a scene were Keanu and Sandy pull the bus over to grab a quick chili dog. I know they wanted to have some semblance of character development, but he's not allowed to stop and chit-chat with Amy Smart or he'll die, remember? Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones! No time for love!

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed Chev's goofball antics. The conclusion, in particular, hits a campy note just exactly right. It's ballsy to go for camp value in an action comedy in 2006. One false move, and you're directing The Big Hit. But Crank worked pretty well for me, blurry fast-cut nausea-inducing editing and all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yup, this was a great one!! Perfect review. I've pre-ordered the DVD!!