Jason Statham’s new action pic Crank wasn’t made available to critics prior to its release. Big shock. After enduring all 87 excruciating minutes of this mean-spirited, blood-drenched Mountain Dew commercial masquerading as a motion picture, I wished that the studio had the courage to do the right thing, and not make it available to audiences either. It would have saved us all a little time, as well as a few brain cells. In fact, if you had the choice of doing “crank” or seeing the film Crank, I’d strongly suggest the former as a more productive use of your time.
Statham, perpetual scowl in place, turns in his typical one-note performance as hit man Chev Chelios, who awakens one morning to find that he’s been poisoned by hot-headed baddie Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo). The film balances precariously on this flimsy conceit, one that could only be concocted in some action movie think tank buried deep in the Hollywood hills: in order to delay the poison’s effect, our hero must keep massive doses of adrenaline flowing through his body or he’ll die before he gets to exact his revenge. It’s kind of like D.O.A. meets Speed, only instead of a bus it’s Statham’s one-man wrecking crew that has to keep moving. I’m sure that’s how first-time writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor pitched it to the suits, who eagerly lapped it up. Somewhere a struggling screenwriter with an engaging and original story about actual people cries himself softly to sleep.
The apparently indestructible Chelios proceeds to carve his way through an endless array of nondescript gangsters, while somehow evading the entire LAPD and causing unprecedented collateral damage to the Los Angeles infrastructure and hordes of innocent bystanders. It’s kind of like a theatrical version of the video game Grand Theft Auto, only with less intelligence and fewer sympathetic characters. Dwight Yoakam checks in periodically as the shady Doc Miles, who provides helpful insights into how to keep Chev’s ticker pumping long enough to ratchet up that body count. Efren Ramirez (the beloved Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite) is given the plum role of Chev’s transvestite buddy Kaylo – he hangs around long enough to be used as a human shield by his friend after a brutal death. About halfway through, Amy Smart shows up in a skimpy pair of undies as the dim-witted, annoying love interest, just in time to have rough public sex in broad daylight with Chelios in front of a crowd of cheering Chinese schoolgirls – hey, gotta keep that blood flowing somehow.
If this all sounds incredibly tasteless and offensive, that’s because it is. There’s nothing wrong with a hard-edged film that has a little nasty streak, but Crank often goes too far. In one head-scratching scene, Chelios tosses an innocent Arab cabbie out of his own car, points at him, and yells “Al Qaeda!” A crowd of docile-looking passers-by suddenly pounce on the poor man and begin to pound him mercilessly. Later, a helpful Haitian cab driver is depicted in fluorescent voodoo garb as part of Chev’s drug-induced hallucination. To their credit, the filmmakers were quite thorough in their attempt to offend virtually every ethnic group imaginable.
There’s so much to dislike about this movie, starting with its hopelessly contrived premise. While I’m more than willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment, sometimes it’s just too much to handle. Why on earth would anyone inject a sworn enemy with slow-acting poison when a bullet in the brain would do the trick? Haven’t they seen a single James Bond film (or listened to Seth Green in Austin Powers)? What’s astounding is that later in the film, after he’s single-handedly wiped out most of the West Coast syndicate, the bad guys try to inject him again rather than riddling him with machine-gun fire. You can imagine the result.
At times, the film borders on parody with its plot holes and ridiculous set-pieces. A car chase suddenly and inexplicably veers into a shopping mall for no apparent reason other than to put a greater number of pedestrians at risk. In another scene, the dying assassin is followed into a hospital room by a bevy of cops, who make it a point to search every drawer and every closet. The camera pulls back to show them leaving and apparently to show Chelios clinging to the ceiling (one would think). Instead, a quick cut shows him climbing out of a closet (?) and running out of the room clad only in a hospital gown, where he is immediately sighted by authorities and a new chase begins. The twist is that for some reason he decided to remove his underwear as part of the disguise, so now we’re treated to frequent flashes of his heinie as he speeds away on a motorcycle. Oh, what clever fun!
From a technical perspective, try to imagine a Tony Scott film, like Domino for instance, with all its distracting tics and affectations. Now multiply that kind of over-direction by ten and you’ve got Crank. Neveldine and Taylor, in a feeble attempt to inject some life into this flatliner, bludgeon viewers with every self-conscious cinematic trick in the book. They employ jittery handheld shots, split screens, freeze frames, onscreen graphics, and black and white shots to no avail. They crank the soundtrack, change the film stock, slow it down, speed it up, and edit every scene down to whiplash cuts that forsake continuity in the name of MTV-inspired excess. The end result is a repulsive, disorienting mess that insults the intelligence of the average filmgoer and leaves Statham pining for the days when Guy Ritchie actually made movies.