Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez
Extras: Commentary Track, In Movie Visual Experience, Featurettes, Interviews
"Don't talk to him like that! My boyfriend kills people!"
Drivel: it's a word you don't hear very often, but try saying it… it rolls right off the tongue. Drivel. Besides being all but forgotten in the English language, it's the only word I can think of that perfectly describes "Crank", the first suicidal round in the cinematic chamber of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. To be extremely kind, this is the sort of movie I would've made when I was fifteen if you handed me a camera and twelve million dollars.
"Crank" is the story of Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), a tightly-wound hitman who wakes up in his apartment to find that a kingpin (Jose Cantillo) has injected him with a 'Chinese Cocktail'. The drug is set to kill him within the hour… unless, of course, good ol' Chev can keep his adrenaline pumping fast enough to keep the poison at bay. This gives our sweaty anti-hero just enough time to extract his bloody revenge on the men who condemned him to an inevitable death.
After the worst opening title sequence since "House of the Dead", there was a moment where I was convinced that I was in store for a decent action flick. But any hope I felt was short lived at best as the filmmakers make the sudden decision to abandon the potential of their concept and bombard us with an hour of the most ridiculous beats to ever pulse through a guns-n-splosions movie. By the time the credits rolled, I was convinced I hadn't watched a film, but that I had been kidnapped and forcibly strapped into an ADHD simulator that some mad scientist had jacked up to level eleven.
So exactly what was so terrible? Where to start…
First off, "Crank" has one of the worst soundtracks I've ever had the displeasure of enduring. After that bit of torture, we get an eccentric but pointless, cross-dressing sidekick (Efren Ramirez), an unbelievably flighty and accepting girlfriend played by Amy Smart and a pack of large-print cue cards, a barebones background for every character, overhead satellite maps that retain the 'Google Maps' logo in the bottom corner of the screen, compulsive shots of topless women whenever a chance presents itself, a public sex scene that's easily one of the most ludicrous things I've seen in a movie, police officers that are as impotent as they are stupid, and a hyperactive camera that shoots from unintentionally hilarious angles such as inside a microwave, from the suit sleeve of a gangster, and tucked in the valves of a pigeon's beating heart.
Worst of all, how invincible is Chelios? He survives a defibrillator jolt to the chest, a bullet wound that mysteriously vanishes after thirty seconds, a massive overdose of phenophedrine after snorting a pound and a half of cocaine, storming into three separate hideouts with heavily armed men that do nothing, assassins that are more oblivious and blind than a crippled Stormtrooper's drunken brother, a standing fall from a motorcycle at full speed, a dose of an insanely powerful Jamaican hallucinogen, an additional injection of the poison Chelios already has in his system, a head-on collision with a mall escalator in his car, and… and… sweet god… I could go on and on. I usually have no problem suspending disbelief to enjoy a movie. But even something as wonderfully far-fetched as "The Crow" had to give us a vengeance filled ghost blessed with supernatural powers to make its invincible character work. Chelios is just a tough guy that everyone on screen marvels at when discussing his inhuman ability to survive the impossible.
What's good? First and foremost, as always, Jason Statham. Even in this abortion, he has a presence that sets a tense, heavy tone. I'd love to see him tackle more roles like he had in "Snatch", "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", "Mean Machine", and "The Italian Job". When given proper material, he's an exciting actor that works well in any of the modern crime genres. Beyond Statham, there's a fun performance from Dwight Yoakam as Chelios's underground physician. Plus there's occasionally a shot or visual technique in the film that struck me as quite clever. However, there are so many other bad decisions that I tend to believe these clever moments can be attributed to luck. Unfortunately, the only real compliments I can give to "Crank" concern its video presentation, audio tracks, and the genuinely interesting and amusing featurettes included on the disc.
The video is presented in Blu-Ray's favorite codec, MPEG-2, and it looks surreal. The film was shot using Digital HD cameras and the benefits are immediately apparent. Technically, the colors and contrast are amazing and flash across the screen in ways that make you understand why movies and games often come with a warning about epileptic seizures. The texture clarity is some of the best I've seen and skin, bricks, clothing, stubble, and grime look like you could reach out and touch them. However, the filmmakers choose such ugly palettes and wash each image out with so many post-production filters, that the technical beauty is lost in the overwhelming cinematography. You can tell they were aiming for the frantic style of Tony Scott's "Man on Fire"… but they come away with something that made me want to look away in almost every scene.
The audio is the same. Technically, the two tracks both exhibit a fantastically varied range that put my surround sound through the gauntlet. It's a treat to the ears… until you realize what you're listening to. Sound effects are overdone, the soundfield is cluttered, and you're never quite sure as to where things occur spatially in the soundscape. On top of this, every time the music moves from pulsing techno-rock to awful soundtrack pieces by bands that have no business in any industry, it's absolutely infuriating.
Surprisingly, the special features include some real treasures and I was shocked to find myself really enjoying a lot of them. Most interesting was the discussion and dissection of the new Digital HD cameras and how they compare to shooting on film. It was a real education on the technology and I wished these explorations were longer and more detailed. There are also a lot of interviews and anecdotes from the likeable cast members that were a good listen. I enjoyed watching the actors make the movie much more than I did watching the end result. It was obviously a fun set with a lot of practical stunt work that's a treat to see. I only wish the directors could've exhibited some self-control because buried in this mess is a potentially energetic movie that I would've loved to see.
Unfortunately, not all of the features are as bearable. The "Crank'd Out Movie Mode" is a visual commentary track that runs parallel to the movie and provides behind-the-scenes glimpses at the process that led to each scene you see on screen. I really enjoy these anytime they appear on a high definition disc… I just wish it wasn't so full of the directors discussing "Crank" as if they were filming "King Lear". I can listen to someone discuss a project they enjoyed working on if they're at least willing to point out the faults of large decisions – especially in a movie that so relies on a viewer's personal taste. This creates the impression of an underlying arrogance in the directors… especially with their first film. But to be fair, I could only stomach half of the track so they may dip into a welcome dose of self-criticism further into the supplement. Finally, the "Family Friendly Version" of the film is a wasted opportunity. Instead of giving us a humorously short cut of the film to bring it to a PG level, the filmmakers simply dub over the cursing in the movie. But there's still written obscenities, nudity, and enough ultra-violence to make you wonder why this "feature" is even here. I thought I was in for a laugh at a three and a half minute cut of the film… but instead, I watched for ten minutes, realized it was a lame dub of the entire movie, yawned, and exited with confusion.
I've read a lot of reviews where critics give "Crank" some credit for being fun and entertaining… but I just don't get it. I can enjoy style-over-substance as much as the next guy, but I just can't enjoy a movie that amounts to a preteen boy's ludicrous, bloody, bullet-hazed wet dream. If you liked "Transporter 2", give "Crank" a shot. If you dig special features, there's a lot to be found about HD technology that is working it's way into Hollywood. Otherwise, skip "Crank" and concentrate on a hundred other newer releases that have far more to offer.