|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2007|
“Crank” was touted as an adrenaline-pounding thrill ride made expressly by action fans for action fans. On that level, perhaps, the movie succeeds, offering frantic pacing, whip-crack dialogue, and a high body count. Given the premise and the action starpower behind it, the movie could have appealed to a wider segment of the audience. However, the writers/directors remained solely focused on delivering a thrill ride that audiences haven’t seen for a while.
Action pictures usually have paper-thin plots, and “Crank” was no different in that regard. Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is a hitman working for the mob. Of course, he does a little side action now and again, too, picking up contract work for murder off the radar of his employer. It’s one of those side jobs that goes sour now and puts him in the cross hairs of Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a scheming drug lord wanting to cut himself a bigger slice of the pie.
The movie starts as Chelios wakes up in his apartment. Judging from his surroundings, Chelios hasn’t exactly made a fortune killing people. It’s also apparent that someone has beaten him up. He quickly finds a disc that grabs his attention and pops it into his DVD player. As Chelios watches the recording, Verona (José Pablo Cantino) explains that he’s injected Chelios with an Asian poison that will kill him if his heart ever slows down to a normal rhythm. Translation: Chelios has to keep moving if he wants to stay alive.
That particular premise (a dying man out for vengeance against those who killed him) has been used successfully several times before. Edmund O’Brien’s “D.O.A.” (1950) dealt with a man who had been poisoned and was doomed to die within a few days; he wanted to find out who had killed him and why. The movie was a remake of “Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht” (1931), and was successful enough that it spawned a number of similar plot twists in other movies as well as television episodes; it was itself remade, first as “Color Me Dead” (1969) with Tom Tryon, and then under the same title in 1988, starring Dennis Quaid.
Of course, Chelios wants more than just to stay alive. He wants the antidote for the poison and he wants revenge against Verona. I had problems with the sound on this disc regarding Verona’s opening conversation, but I think it was the movie (and perhaps might have been intended to sound that way) more than anything technical because the audio portions of the rest of the disc seemed intact. Verona seemed to mumble through his lines at the beginning. His audio improved as the story progressed, though.
After learning what’s been done to him, Chelios trashes his TV set in a fit of rage, which pretty much sets the tone for the rest and the jerky camera stylings used throughout the tale. He streaks out of the apartment, jumps in his car, and starts making calls as he speeds through the streets. The movie doesn’t just edge over into total disbelief--it slams through the barrier at breakneck speed. Almost immediately, Chelios picks up police pursuit in the form of police cars and police motorcycles. Of course, he begins taking evasive action while he’s talking to Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam).
Only hardcore action fans can suspend disbelief at this point. Here’s a poison that somehow works against the adrenal gland in a way that has never been shown on “E.R.” or any of the other medical shows and movies, but Doc Miles suddenly knows exactly what it is and offers medical advice while en route to L. A. I understand the need to waylay some of the realistic problems that would naturally occur so that the story can be streamlined, but this isn’t streamlining. This is blatant plot jumping, a bare minimum of effort to piece together plot fragments and action sequences.
The LAPD can’t stop Chelios although he’s a hitman, not a trained driver like Statham was in “Transporter”. And somehow Chelios is drugged up, still able to handle the phone, and able to drive the car like a Hollywood stuntman. Not only that, but he never once runs down an innocent bystander while careening madly through a mall. The “Lethal Weapon” movies pull off this kind of craziness all the time, but they were working from a sympathetic character base from the first time Gibson steps onto the screen. It’s hard to like Chelios even though I like Statham.
Although I’m a devoted action film fan, I struggled to stay with this one. The plot, although absurdly simple on one hand, was knotted up and twisted at the same time. It was hard to tell who was on what side at any given moment. Nor were the characters’ motivations real. When Chelios kills Verona’s brother and the amputated hand is delivered to Verona, Verona laughs, cries, then appears angry. I didn’t know how he felt except that he wanted Chelios dead. But if he wanted that, why didn’t he just shoot him through the head at the beginning of the movie while he was shoving a syringe of “Asian poison” into Chelios?
The action quickly becomes relegated to conventional chase, fight, and run. Along with the one-liners and hard-fisted action, the movie tries to take on a black comedy tone, but generally those attempts come during some of the bleakest action or just fall flat. The only truly funny bit is when a neighbor’s parakeet is shot by a stray round from a silenced pistol. The bird disappears in a puff of bright blue feathers during a gunfight and the old lady sitting next to it never notices. The bit was so unexpected that I nearly strangled on a soft drink. However, even the physics of that didn’t work because the round never touched the bird cage or anywhere else in the room. It just vanished, like it and the parakeet checked out together.
When Chelios makes a rendezvous with his girlfriend, Eve (Amy Smart) she’s presented in such a way that she’s supposed to be comic relief and a sex bomb all rolled into one. Smart does the best that she can with the role, but there just isn’t enough there. She came across as a dumb bunny, but she played it so dumb that you had to wonder how she made it on her own or why Chelios ever got interested in her. (Why hasn’t Verona or his gang killed her before now to make Chelios’s life even more miserable?),
Eve is too dumb and unsuspecting to engender any goodwill, and the fighting sequences with Chelios in which he’s just out of her line of sight hearken back to the Keystone Kops in the ludicrousness. The bit in Chinatown, after Chelios tells Eve everything that’s going on and she doesn’t believe him, is uneven. Knowing that his heart is failing again (and those episodes kept cropping up whenever it was convenient to remind the audience that Chelios had a medical problem), Chelios forcibly seduces Eve on the crowded street. That scene works to a degree and has some genuine humor due more to the bizarre nature of what’s going on than anything else.
Country superstar Dwight Yoakam delivers another sterling performance as something of a sleazeball. He’s been doing roles like this for a while, and he has a real flair for acting. On the surface, given his popularity as a country singer, though, it’s strange to see that he’s playing these kinds of characters. But he does them well.
Jason Statham acquits himself well in the film, proving again that he’s definitely an action hero Hollywood can bank on for a certain segment of the viewing audience. He’s got the rugged looks, the accent, and the physical chops to pull off the role. He can also handle characters with some meat on their bones, though the outing here doesn’t show that.
The special features section is all hype for the movie. There’s even an interview Statham and the writers did at San Diego Comic Convention prior to its release. They all seem to be having fun and looking forward to release. The disc also offers a “family-friendly” version, which cleans up the language and some of the gore. However, the language substitutions sound inane and the absence of the gore creates choppiness.
“Crank” is an action-lover’s dream movie. Mindless violence, one-liners, more bare skin than movie-goers have seen in years, a simulated sex scene that is unlike anything that probably ever been done, and a soundtrack filled with driving music, crashes, explosions, and gunfire. This one if definitely for the boys on nights without the ladies, unless the ladies love this kind of material as much as their men.