Monday, 2 February 2009

Crank (2006)

If you had to pitch Crank at a production meeting, you would basically say, “It’s Speed with a human body instead of a bus.” Hitman Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) wakes up one morning in his apartment, stumbling in agony, before he finds a DVD with “Fuck You” written upon it. We see everything from his hyper point of view, which is reminiscent of Jonas Akuerland’s clip for the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up music video. Loading the disc into his DVD player, a bald Latino gangster named Verona appears on the television screen, informing Chelios that he has been injected with some “Chinese synthetic shit” that will poison him slowly. (What might be the medical basis for such a drug? Well, you know, it’s from Asia and it’s synthetic, so don’t worry about it, dudes! Anyway, it is later referred to by its textbook name, “Shanghai Cocktail”). The fact that this over-acted, over-heated speech from the bad guy is shot on video makes it resemble an audition tape for the actor Jose Pablo Cantillo. Anyway, once the basic plot is explained in the first five minutes and we see an x-ray insert into Chevlios’ body and his failing heart, both the lead character AND the movie go into a RAGE!!! As Chevlios trashes his own apartment in anger, the film switches from tilted angles to freeze-frame zoom-ins like we’ve just switched music videos (Basically Chris Cunningham turned into a marketing cliché, but with Refused’s New Noise on the soundtrack).

The level of intensity remains the same throughout the whole motion picture. The only variation is the ridiculousness of what is occurring on screen. The script appears to have been composed from a late night bull session of fratboys drinking heavily and snorting coke, daring each other to come up with action sequences they would have loved to have seen when they were thirteen years old, if logic and sense were not restraints on their imagination. You see, Chelios eventually figures out that in order to stay alive and have his revenge on Verona, he has to continually increase his adrenaline levels. He goes for more subtle options than simply sticking a shot of adrenaline into his heart like Uma in Pulp Fiction: snorting cocaine off a grungy bathroom floor, picking a fight with a bar full of black tough guys (Chevlios shouts, “Who wants some white meat?” to them, giving you some indication of the film’s sense of humour and understanding of racial tension), and most hilariously moshing in the back of a taxi cab to the sounds of Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achey Breaky Heart’ (see, subtle). It’s the kind of motion picture experience that if I saw it when I was in high school, my friends and I would simply stand around outside the cinema, awe-struck with dumb looks on our faces, listing what happened in it with the precursor, “Can you believe they did that?”

Probably the most memorable by which I mean unbelievable aspect of Crank is the equation of sex and violence throughout as the elements of a crankin’ action sequence. Remember Swordfish, that terrible Warner Bros techo-action-flick that opened with John Travolta in a stupid haircut bagging Dog Day Afternoon and featured Halle Berry baring her breasts for a reportedly large sum of money? If not, you’re lucky. If you do, you might remember that surreal scene where super-criminal Travolta sits down master hacker Hugh Jackman at a table with a laptop in front of him in order to test his skills. So, yes, he has to break into the Pentagon website in one minute. With a gun next to his head. And for no reason, other than the filmmakers’ and the audience’s titillation, a busty blonde blowing him under the table. It’s quite a sight to see Hugh, one of Australia’s national treasures, attempt to act both concentration, tension and orgasmic delight in the one moment. Crank contains similar sequences fuelled by adolescent fantasies, like the one where Chelios attempts to have sex with his dimwit girlfriend (Amy Smart) in the middle of Chinatown. At first, she resists, but when she hits him in defence as he basically tries to rape her in the middle of the street, she feels remorse and then straddles him in ecstasy (again, very accurate depiction of male-female relationships). Why set this in Chinatown you might ask? Not only for the obligatory shot of happy Asians taking pictures with their cameras, but for the capper to the scene, which is when Chelios can’t sustain an erection with his girlfriend, the sight of a school bus filled with comely Asian schoolgirls provides much needed assistance. It’s the type of scene where I’d imagine the filmmakers high-fiving each other afterwards. What were the reactions of my friends and me who were watching this projected against a large screen? Gales of laughter mixed with groans of how appalling this all was.

Case in point, my good friend Jarrad was initially resistant to the pleasures of Crank. My friend Mitch was the only person in the room who had seen it before and he was giddy with expectation at every illogical bit of business that would occur, such as Chevlios running through the streets in a hospital gown, seeing a motorcycle cop, taking his gun off him, stealing the motorbike, and performing a burn-out for no good reason (with the cop hanging onto the tail, sparks flying off his boots). While Jarrad would react negatively to the displays of sexism and racism (such as when Chevlios steals a cab and throws the angry middle-eastern driver into a bistro and then says the cabbie is “Alkada” in order for the white patrons to beat him up as he makes off with his cab), even he was won over when in a struggle over a silenced pistol between Chevlios and an assassin, a stray shot is sounded off and we cut inside the quiet apartment of a elderly woman in her comfy chair while behind her the bird in a cage that is near the window explodes in a shower of feathers. “Can you be too entertained in a movie?” Mitch sagely asked.

The two directors who are simply listed as Neveldine/Taylor come off as jock assholes in the making of DVDs, with one of them simply sitting there with his trucker's cap firmly down on his brow like some pissed-off guitarist for an indie-metal band while the other gas-bags about how "the internet" was such a marketing force for their movie. Their brand of filmmaking is the type of EXTREME busyness that makes Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers look restrained and subtle by comparison. Case in point, Statham confronts some Latino gangbangers and quips in his indomitable cockney accent, "Do I look like I have cunt written on my forehead?" Soon as he sees it, Neveldine/Taylor flash the word "cunt" on his forehead using projected light. If this either floats your boat or makes you ask, "what the fuck?", you have to see Crank.


Anonymous said...

and to think that soon we'll be able to see the sequel to this particularly bullshitty piece of film... can't wait!

Mitch said...

You're right, those directors were a pair of back-slapping, high-fivin' assholes. The thing I like best about this movies is that the entire 'premise' leaves the storyline open to any possibility. There's no need - nor time - for character development. There's only just enough time for a series of increasingly unlikely dilemmas. The outcomes of which are completely dictated by both the character's need for adrenal stimulation and the directors' misplaced concern that there 'still isn't enough action in this movie, High Five!'.