Run, Jason, Run
Crank, a high-energy and high-concept actioner starring rising tough guy Jason Statham, gets right to the point. Starting with frame one, it sends viewers on a maniacal little journey and flat-out refuses to stop for breaks.
Chev Chelios (Statham) is a freelance hitman working for a California-based mob. The day after his latest hit, Chev wakes up to find himself a little groggy and very weary. He soon discovers that a poison is coursing through his system -- and he has only an hour or so before his heart shuts down. Wasting no time, Chev takes to the streets in a manic quest to track down the business rival (Jose Pablo Cantillo) responsible for poisoning him. As he struggles to keep on living a bit longer, Chev learns the only thing he can do to prolong the effects of the poison is to keep his adrenaline pumping at a constant rate (as his doctor warns, "If you stop, you die!"). Chev promptly begins wreaking havoc throughout Los Angeles, driving through crowded malls, stealing police motorcycles, and gulping down can upon can of Red Bull to keep himself going, filling himself with energy long enough to spend a little more time with his girlfriend (Amy Smart) and to exact his revenge as quickly as he can.
If youíre curious about what the title Crank means in connection with this film, one of the dictionary definitions of that word is "an unbalanced person who is overzealous in the advocacy of a private cause." Chev Chelios is an unbalanced dude, alright, but who wouldnít be overzealous if injected with a poison that would make you drop dead unless you went on a citywide rampage?
Crank emerges as pure, unadulterated cinemayhem, a nonstop parade of death, destruction, and dark, dark humor. It may sound like all concept and no payoff, but this movie -- like Chev himself -- skillfully and miraculously finds ways to keep itself going and does virtually everything possible to keep the pacing intense and to involve the audience with the action. Co-writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who must be graduates of the Tony Scott School of Filmmaking, liberally apply lighting-fast editing, gritty cinematography, and other weird tricks of the trade (including characters appearing on walls and subtitles that pop up out of nowhere) to create a highly charged atmosphere of desperation that serves as a backdrop for a series of darkly comedic, incredibly violent set pieces.
Statham brings all of the right traits to his "man on a mission" role, perfectly conveying the attitude of a contract killer who knows there's no time to waste when his life's on the line and when number one on his "Things To Do Before I Die" list is hunting down the scumbags responsible. Statham has the tough guy demeanor down pat, but he also helps bring out the more humorous side of certain scenes -- such as in a sequence where Chev tries to convince his girlfriend to have sex in the middle of crowded Chinatown.
Despite the surprising mileage Crank gets out of its action premise and the engaging elements Statham brings to the table, it isnít a perfect movie. Some of the supporting players end up more like distractions (including Efren Ramirez, best known as Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite, as Chev's cross-dressing sidekick); a few performances wear a bit thin (Smart can't seem to decide if her character should be a complete ditz or not); and even what little story there is here turns out to be hard to understand. Although I love gunfights and car chases as much as the next guy, there were a couple of times during Crank when I wanted someone to put down the gun and explain what in the world was going on.
Still, I think Crank is exactly what the movies needed lately. Itís an action flick thatís not afraid to use a bit of cinematic ultra-violence to give viewers a good jolt in the cerebellum. And it really does keep your heart racing.
MY RATING: *** 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated ďRĒ for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use.)