The Theory of Chaos

Monday, October 02, 2006


Full review behind the jump


: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Producers: Michael Davis, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Skip Williamson, Richard Wright
: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam, Carlos Sanz

There’s a scene in
Crank where an evil gangster is seen playing the classic arcade game Berzerk. There’s an urban myth about this 1980 sci-fi maze chase – that the experience of playing it was so intense it literally killed people. As with many such myths there’s a kernel of truth, in 1981 two teenagers with heart defects died during long-stretches of play. Whether what looks in technological hindsight like a primitive stick-figure smackdown could actually contribute to fatal arrhythmia is irrelevant, because the story so perfectly dramatized the Baby Boomer generation’s anxieties about These Kids Today, and their weird, adrenalized hobbies. You can almost picture a Chick Tract circulating about it.

I’d like to think that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, co-writers and directors of this satisfyingly silly action programmer, have heard this story and know exactly what they’re saying by providing a cameo to that little piece of video game history. Because
Crank is a defiantly self-aware riff on every cliché leveled against the Sensation Generation. It is a winking celebration of the heedless and decadent rush towards doom which has been proscribed as the fate for any kid who ever skipped homework to play Street Fighter II. Like it or lump it, you have to hand it to a movie with the guts to be this truly ridiculous.

Its story is essentially a redo of noir classic
D.O.A. sponsored by Red Bull, in that it concerns a man who finds himself in the pitifully novel position of investigating and avenging his own murder. The twist here is that Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), and only in a movie like this could you have characters with names like “Chev Chelios”, can artificially-prolong his brief time left on this Earth if he can just keep himself excited enough.

See, he’s a hitman, and hitmen can, as an occupational hazard, make enemies. So when he tumbles out of bed one morning feeling thicker than any hangover, it’s because something far worse has happened. According to his doctor (played with perfectly-pitched blasé corruption by Dwight Yoakam), he’s been spiked with a “Beijing cocktail”, an invariably fatal poison which blocks the normal production of adrenaline. The only way to stay alive long enough to get to the punk (Jose Pablo Cantillo) who did this to him is to up the level of stimulation. Get the heart pumping.

To this end Chev takes whatever pick-me-ups are available as he crashes around Los Angeles. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll are merely jumping off points – he branches out to utilize reckless driving, theft, brawling, energy drinks, exhibitionism, cold medicine, a waffle iron, and the fortuitous appearance of a bus full of Asian schoolgirls. Looking back, there’s very little of the bad-tempered kick-fu that serves as Statham’s trademark in the Transporter franchise, he just doesn’t have the time to stick around and spar for too long. That he must constantly seek novel thrills while he stalks his prey is used most ingeniously as the device it is, I imagine this as the type of script that’s written in long, fevered rushes late at night, with lots of demented laughter.

The movie is lean enough to be self-fulfilling as a headlong sprint off a cliff; it’s a challenge for Neveldine and Taylor to find any variability in tempo but they do manage to fit all five stages of coping with loss in there, albeit on high-speed shuffle with an emphasis on the “Anger” stage. Their shooting approach is informed by the compartmentalized click-around of Internet surfers, forever stabbing their mouse buttons to the next amusement like lab monkeys ordering up their nicotine fix. Many of the tricks they use – speed ramping, nearly-subliminal cuts, misbehaving sub-titles – have been used elsewhere and more imaginatively, but you can see the amalgamation of MTV, Nintendo and the Netflix queue of Quentin Tarantino as forming a reasonably unified aesthetic. I wouldn’t say yet that they’re filmmakers to take note of, but they do know how to see this kooky idea through.

Statham is emerging as an action star who almost improves with the absurdity of his scenario – he is an agile, and grumpy, angel of death who has never found a situation so bizarre that it didn’t tick him off. And he knows how to be funny, too, just watch what a puppy pushover he becomes around his genially-baked girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart). Eve, the kind of irresistible couch tart for whom putting on pants is a drag on the mellow, comes around very slowly to her perception of what’s happening, then figures out ways she can be useful under the circumstances. One might decide to complain off this evidence that the movie is sexist – one would then be ignoring that it is also deeply insensitive to race, sexual preference, traffic regulations, the laws of physics, and appropriate behavior in front of Asian schoolgirls.

I can’t say Crank is a great movie, but it’s a satisfying movie in that it is different, and understands its own best assets – Statham’s scowl, Smart’s derrière, the writers’ inventiveness. I can see a small cult forming to appreciate it, for me it provided a lot of the guilty pleasure I couldn’t find in Snakes on a Plane. Those who would condemn it as just another sad exemplar of the voracious quest for cheap highs by the young folks are once again missing the message – that we’ve been in on that joke for a long time.


Post a Comment

<< Home