**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Dwight Yoakam
written and directed by Neveldine/Taylor
by Walter Chaw Consider the moment where French-fu schlockmeister Jason Statham marches through downtown traffic clad in a hospital smock, black socks, and boots while sporting a giant erection and ask yourself what more you could want from a dumb action movie called Crank. Seriously. A crotch-first fusion of Rudolph Maté's D.O.A. and "Grand Theft Auto", it defines that genre of video game-inspired non-sequitur mayhem indicated by epileptic edits, CGI-aided wire-fu, and John Woo gunplay by offering a high concept (hero is dying of a rare Chinese toxin that can be held in abeyance only with a steady infusion of adrenaline) as its narrative/excuse to exist.
Chev (Statham) is a sociopathic hitman, injected with the abovementioned toxin and shot like a rocket across the mean streets in search of his murderer. Short time (and as it happens, Crank is a lot like Dabney Coleman's surprisingly funny Short Time, too) inspiring sentimentality in the ol' so-and-so, Chev finds time in his mad dash to pick up dim-bulb girlfriend Eve (an unbelievably hot Amy Smart), who's of course amenable to a couple of public displays of affection. One, in the middle of Chinatown, betrays a little intelligence in the objectification of a school bus full of Asian schoolgirls; the other--in which Eve gives Chev a hummer while he's in full flight from carloads of gun-bearing baddies--fulfills the holy trinity of puerile wish-fulfillment: bullets, crashes, and blow-jobs.
Crank fulfills a lot of puerile wish-fulfillment, truth be told, by dispensing with the pleasantries of plot and character development in favour of strippers, girls in bikinis, dumb nymphet girlfriends, gay sidekicks who get killed via erotic asphyxiation, motorcycles, helicopters, guns, and the Chinese mafia. Anyone without the good fortune to be a white male is, in fact, offered the full weight of objective tribal disapproval, mistrust, and sadism. Hateful and misanthropic, it's the caveman aesthetic unadorned and a pretty fair representation of an awesome video game chock-a-block with collateral damage opportunities and a scene where the hero is defibrillated at his own behest. It's an amplification of Luc Besson-pushed pieces like The Transporter (which themselves owed their existence to Hong Kong's action carnival of the 1980s), riding a wave of trendy Eastern wuxia pian conventions in a fascinating case of East-West cultural diffusion.
Fair to note that Woo, Ringo Lam, et al were influenced by Sam Peckinpah (and John Ford by way of Akira Kurosawa by way of Sergio Leone), but the immediate lineage seems clear as a bell: Crank is like a product translated from Chinese to French to English for American consumption. The end product of all that distillation is the super-concentrated silt at the bottom of a chemistry experiment that has no possible purpose to it but to deliver whatever limited jolt of which it's capable. It's simultaneously the defense and the weakness of the piece, this ability to do what it does without a hint of pretension, but because it's so much of a type, it's doomed to be confused with just about every other film that's identical to it--down to Statham, down to the restlessness, down to the juiced-up impotent rage.
Crank comes home courtesy Lionsgate (Maple in Canada) in separate but equally snazzy, slipcovered widescreen and fullscreen editions. The former contains a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (mislabelled 2.35:1 on the cover art) that's predictably flawless and rich in detail considering the source is completely digital. (Crank was shot mainly with Sony's HDC-F950, a.k.a. the Revenge of the Sith camera, though it actually looks quite filmlike on the small screen.) The accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio is very simply crammed with information and voluble in its enthusiastic havoc, while an alternate 2.0 track elides the expletives in what a brief video introduction seems to confirm is a backhanded joke targeted at the hypocrisy that governs ratings decisions in the United States, since all the sex and violence remains intact. Meanwhile, hyphenates Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor--crediting themselves as Neveldine/Taylor, making them sound not inappropriately like an advertising agency--contribute a feature-length yakker courtesy a "Crank'd Out Mode" that superimposes a little picture-in-picture window showing the pair watching the film.
In an extremely nifty Infinifilm-style innovation, the boys are swapped out for behind-the-scenes footage and visits from Statham--in other words, the ephemera that would usually be used to pad the special features section is actually integrated, sometimes even logically, into this playback option. For their part, the filmmakers confess that the script took all of four days to squeeze out, their screenwriting decisions governed by how best to employ the visual tricks they learned as camera operators and effects technicians on other people's films. (Be that as it may, one of the pleasant surprises of the film is that when it comes time at last for the plot to pay off, it does so in an extended, almost gorgeous denouement that feels like the window of euphoria before ejaculation--roll credits.) A slew of previews for Farce of the Penguins, Saw III, The Punisher: Extended Cut, Employee of the Month, Peaceful Warrior, the animated The Invincible Iron Man, and Crank's soundtrack album round out the presentation along with the video for David Rolas "Adrenalina"--which is essentially movie clips interspersed with two large Hispanic-looking gentlemen surrounded by a throng of scantily-clad women. Looks like we have the storyline for Crank 2. Originally published: February 27, 2007.