Directed by: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez
Be advised: The four star rating on Crank is of the specialized variety. By any traditional definition this is not a good movie. It's silly, preposterous, sloppy and sometimes annoyingly hip, and it has the soul of a bad exploitation movie. It's irredeemably violent. It's high in cinematic cholesterol and low in moral fiber. In fact, it has no moral weightiness at all. If anything, it has amoral flippancy. It's even downright sleazy. If it were a person, you wouldn't want to know him or her. It's also more guilty fun than a firkin full of extremely inebriated simians -- at least it is if you let the movie drag you down to its level, something it does with all the winning charm of an accomplished sociopath. If the idea of someone being shot with his own gun -- still in the grip of his own unceremoniously amputated hand -- doesn't offend you too much, chances are you'll enjoy Crank.
Directing-writing team Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (billed simply as Neveldine/Taylor) come to movies by way of stunts, visual effects and cinematography. It shows, though not necessarily in a bad way, because they accomplish that which has defeated their more seasoned directorial brethren this summer: They've crafted a pure action film. It's short on exposition, long on incident and surprisingly adept at filling in characterization on the run. It's a breathlessly tight 81-minute ride that pretends to be nothing more than a kind of video game rush for the big screen. Indeed, the film's opening credits look like a video game -- a down-and-dirty non-state-of-the-art one at that.
If all of this is a clever move on the part of Neveldine/Taylor, the decision to cast Jason Statham in the lead approaches genius. Without Statham, Crank simply wouldn't work. He has the personality and the presence to make it work. He also has the willingness to do anything -- an essential for the star of a movie with a script that calls for playing a lengthy stretch of the proceedings clad in an open-backed hospital gown while sporting a very obvious adrenalin-induced display of aroused manliness. (Owing to the grandeur of this effect, Statham may well find his social calendar full after this film.) This is an actor who is simply unafraid -- and that makes sense because so is his character.
The film has less a story than it has a situation. Chev Chelios (Statham), a mob hit man, awakes one morning feeling like death on two legs, and finds a DVD on which he is informed by an enemy, Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo, The Manchurian Candidate), that he's a dead man. This is no metaphorical threat, but a reality. In fact, Verona includes footage showing Chelios' murder -- Verona has fatally poisoned Chelios by injecting him while he was unconscious. Not surprisingly, Chelios doesn't take this news at all well, and goes on a rampage to get at the man who has murdered him. Diagnosed by sleazy medico Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam, Wedding Crashers) as having been given the "Beijing Cocktail," it turns out that the only thing that will keep Chelios going -- even temporarily -- is an adrenaline rush. (Do I detect a sly comment on the type of audience for this film?)
The ways in which Chelios acquires these adrenaline fixes -- fast driving, casual lawbreaking, drugs, gangster-baiting, sex (this has to be seen to be believed), self-inflicted pain, assorted mayhem -- form the center of the film as he carves a bloody path to his killer. It's a holiday of black comedy at breakneck speed. The results are as absurd as they are enjoyable. In fact, it's the absurdity that makes them enjoyable.
On the debit side, the first 10 to 15 minutes of the film are an irritating cornucopia of jittery-cam photography and tricked-out editing awash in generic headbanging music that may threaten to drive viewers to the exit. Once past this, however, Crank becomes so playfully inventive that it's hard to resist -- and unless you're simply offended by its heart-of-darkness violent overkill, I can't see any reason to resist it. Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke