Through the Shattered Lens has been quite eclectic when it comes to reviewing films, music and all forms of entertainment. While we’re not averse to the more high-brow and artistic fare what will come across to most visitors of the site is how love for grindhouse and exploitation films are quite strong in this place. Grindhouse and exploitation of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s usually fill the bill but once in a while a certain film of aq more recent time frame will make the cut. One such film is the over-the-top, ultraviolent and extremely funny film Crank from Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, or as they like to call themselves, Neveldine/Taylor.
One thing I must point out is how this movie has confirmed Jason Statham in my eyes as the current action-star of the last couple years. A favorite of Brit action-auteur director Guy Ritchie, Statham has gradually built himself a decent list of action-movies that take good advantage of Statham’s old-school sense of machismo and smirking confidence reminiscent of the such past macho actors like Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen just to name a few. Statham is thick in body, but none too muscular and his wry, British sardonic personality mixes well with his many different action-movie personas. In Crank he pretty much steals and holds the ludicrous and unique different plot from spiralling out into camp and MST3K territory. Even though Statham would never be considered an acting giant, his performance as the hitman Chev Chelios racing against time to avenge his inevitable death was very well done. Crank starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Like the actions and behavior of its main character, this film seems to be racing towards the end and not caring to slow down and give the audience a chance to take a breather. He literally willed this film to be nothing but crazily entertaining.
Many have called the idea for Crank as another derivative of the mid-90’s action film Speed. I’d be the first to say that they’re really not off the mark by much. Instead of a bus wired to explode if it dips below a predetermined speed, Crank puts the same premise and uses a human body instead. The human in question is one Chev Chelios whose botching of a contract hit lands him in a bit of hot water with the underworld bosses who hired him to do the job. Ambushed and knocked unconscious, Chelios soon wakes up to realize that something is definitely wrong with him. A bit of villain grandstanding from the employer he disappointed, Chelios quickly finds out that he has been injected with an exotic cocktail of chemicals called the Beijing Cocktail (definitely sounds like something made-up for a grindhouse flick) which would kill him by inhibiting his body’s ability to produce adrenaline. He learns from a colleague that he will need to keep his adrenaline pumping constantly to remain among the living and must do so by any means necessary. Whether he accomplishes this through extreme physical activities, drugs, and energy drinks Chelios must do them all in order to buy himself enough time to tie up lose ends in his life and to find the employers who have killed him. That is pretty much the story of Crank in a nutshell.
Crank doesn’t take much of the film’s early minutes to explain some backstory on Chelios other than him being a professional hitman. Instead writer-directors Neveldine/Taylor use the entire running time of the movie to gradually give glimpses into what kind of a person Chev Chelios is. With their use of handheld digital cameras and kinetic-style editing and camera shots, Neveldine/Taylor takes the premise of Crank and lets the audience ride along not just as passive viewers but almost like active participants. The “in the now” look of the film with some shots angled so that they’re almost in first-person or over the shoulder views doesn’t look as gimmicky as it sounds. One film released the same year that compares to Crank in terms of unique filmmaking for an action film it would be Running Scared that was released earlier this year. Both take the action flick conventions and dare to rise above it either through a dark fairytale style that was Running Scared or the manic, darkly amoral humor that gives Crank such an exhilirating sense of pacing.
The one thing that people will remember most about this movie is the many action sequences that happen throughout the film. With their decision to use handheld digital cameras, action sequences in Crank take on an almost hyperkinetic look to them. Again this film shares some similarities with Running Scared with how its action sequences were shot with such inventive use of angles and framing not to mention in-your-face violence. Crank has less of the surreal quality of Running Scared and more of a live newscast. In fact, at times I felt as if I was watching a news crew vainly chasing after Statham’s character as he paints the Los Angeles with non-stop adrenaline-pumping violence and activities. Whether its him getting into an outnumbered free-for-all brawl with a certain inner-city gang or having a very impromptu, unexpected and thoroughly indecent display of public affection with dozens in witness, the film’s amoral and sense of active nihilism makes this film a most politically-incorrect one. There’s a scene involving a taxi driver that was wrong on so many levels yet it invoked some of the biggest laughs and reactions from myself and the audience around me when I first saw it in the theaters.
The violence comes hard and fast and unlike Statham’s past couple of Transporter flicks, there’s nary a martial art choreographed fight scene to be seen. No, Chelios is an action film character who attacks and fights with sudden directness and brutality with as little movements required as possible. Chelios doesn’t need kung fu or karate moves to take out an opponent when a a well-placed kick, punch, elbow, etc…is all that’s needed to put a man down. Crank’s action sequences also had no CGI used (something I learned prior to seeing the film) with Statham doing most of his stunts. This wouldn’t be too much of a big deal until one factors in the fact that one of the action pieces takes place in a helicopter flying a thousand or so feet above the street of LA. Statham must have quite a steely pair if there’s truth behind him doing that helicopter fight with no greenscreen CG trickery or wire-fu assistance used.
Outside of Statham the rest of the cast took to their roles with a relish and had fun with them. And as with every action-flicks the hero will need a foil to motivate him. Statham’s Chelios has his opposite number in Verona played with thuggish calculation by Jose Pablo Castillo. Then there’s Doc Dwight Yoakam as Doc Miles. Chelios’ acquaintance whose knowledge of all things chemical borders on the absurd but in Crank makes it work. But the other performer who stood out outside of Jason Statham has to be Amy Smart as Chelios’ ditzy but well-meaning girlfriend, Eve. She plays this character to the hilt and seem to be having a ball while doing so. Her outdoor scene of PDA with Statham and a follow-up scene during a car chase shows me that Ms. Smart was pretty game about going all the way with how to portray her character.
I won’t mention too many more details on what actually happens in the film since I think its best to see it for oneself. Words can’t really describe the sheer insanity and fun mayhem this movie puts up on the big-screen. The story may not be too original and it’s lead may not be the best actor out there, but what Statham lacks in acting proficiency he more than makes up for sheer charisma and old-school machismo that’s way too rare in action-flick actors nowadays. Crank is more than your run-of-the-mill action movie. The creativity shown by writer-directors Neveldine/Taylor gives Crank a unique look and their attempts to try new techniques succeeds more than it fails. But in the end this film lives and dies on the shoulders of Jason Statham who I must say is the action-hero of this new generation of actors.
So, better grab hold tight of something or someone, because this film is one hell of a ride and you’re not getting off until the very end whether you like it or not.