Crank is the movie they warned us the video game generation would make. It’s also the best action film released this summer, maybe even this year. It’s a hyperactive thrill ride that understands itself, its audience and its genre enough to not take anything too seriously. And it confirms Jason Statham as one of the – if not the – best action star working today.
The premise is simple, and is best explained as “Speed on a thug”. Hitman Chev Chelios wakes up and discovers that he has been poisoned in his sleep, and he quickly learns that the only way to keep the poison at bay is to keep his adrenaline pumping by whatever means necessary. So he begins a citywide rampage to get the motherfucker who killed him, and maybe tie up some loose ends in his life. And this is the very beginning of the movie – writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor don’t fuck around setting things up, giving us some scenes that establish who Chev is – all of that happens on the fly (and there’s a surprising lot of it, too, considering the breakneck pace of the film. We even manage to learn about Chev’s relationship with his mom). Crank launches almost immediately into its insane universe, meaning that if you’re not safely in your seat you might get blown right out of the theater in the first few minutes of the movie.
Crank isn’t just a movie obviously and heavily influenced by video games (the movie’s opening title is straight out of an NES game), it actually feels a lot like playing a game. You know the first time you played a Grand Theft Auto game and shotgunned a guy’s head off and you laughed? That’s Crank. GTA is the game it owes the most to, in everything from milieu to amoral content and even to offbeat musical choices. It’s not a rip-off, but I would call big bullshit on Neveldine and Taylor if they claimed they never spent any time in San Andreas, Liberty City or Vice City.
But wherever the inspiration came from, the duo bring their own style to it. Crank‘s interesting because I could never make up my mind if these guys really had such a breathtaking and visceral visual sense through design or through instinct – do any of the shots in the movie mean anything, or do they just look great? There are a couple of times where I found myself really marveling at their use of the frame not just for propulsive action but for meaning – after a car chase Chev walks over to the wrecked enemy vehicle and pumps bullets into the survivors, and the action takes place in a small corner of a screen dominated by a blasted Los Angeles landscape and a big sky. It’s a shot like that that convinces me that these guys aren’t just cinematic idiot savants, and I can’t wait for their next movie to find out for sure.
Statham’s brilliant as Chev. There aren’t many actors who would go where Statham does in Crank, whether it’s really hanging out of a helicopter high over LA (and boy, you can feel the vertiginous height in that moment, and it’s the kind of shot that reminds you why sometimes it’s worth putting your actor in Vic Morrow-esque danger to achieve something that no amount of greenscreens and no terabytes of computers will ever achieve) or not being able to get it up in a strange and hilarious sex scene. He’s wry and brutal, sort of a combination of the best parts of Willis and Schwarzenegger. It’s important that you like the guy in a real way, since he spends the movie endangering innocents, beating hospital patients and borderline raping his girlfriend. Seriously, when I tell you that Crank is amoral, I mean it. If you’re easily offended, this is probably not the film for you.
What’s amazing about Crank is its ability to keep itself going until the very end. Most action movies have rough, slow parts, and I figured that this film would be very much like its namesake drug, leading to a sludgy comedown (before the film gave itself another dose right at the end to liven things up). But the film barrels along almost nonstop, and while I might have trimmed it just a little bit (things get a touch episodic), Crank never really crashes (it sputters once or twice, though). And it manages to keep being visually inventive – most films seem to be able to visually fun for the first act but then quickly settle into a fairly standard point and shoot aesthetic (as much as I love Running Scared, I feel like that film loses its will to be visual halfway through) – Crank just ups the ante again and again, becoming more and more implausible and fun. It just gets more and more ludicrous, and I loved it more and more. Some reviews will spoil the details of the insanity in this film but I am taking pains not to disclose much (I want to so badly. This is the kind of movie where you have to get beers afterwards with your friends and just recount your favorite moments and bits of ultraviolence) – you need to go in fresh so that you, like me, will spend half the movie laughing, clapping and going, “What the fuck?!”
Crank is the movie that so many other shitty, ADD films aspire to be. Seeing one of them done right (another one that’s done right, by the way, is the classic Torque. In many ways Crank is this year’s Torque, if Torque had been smoking crack rock for three straight days) makes you realize how terrible the rest of them truly are. Crank isn’t a smart movie, exactly, but it’s not dumb, either. I would say that the film embraces its own over the top qualities, but I don’t believe Crank actually even acknowledges that there is a top in the first place. Crank is a thrill, a rush, and I wonder if I’ll find it addicting when I go see it again this weekend.