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Crank (2006,USA)

05/03/2012

Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor               Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam 

A recent spate of encounters with Jason Statham on my telly box has led me to undertake what could perhaps be my most foolish endeavour of recent times, that is to say, to attempt to find a Jason Statham film that is actually any good. Just to be clear on this: I have no real issue with Statham himself, in fact I find him rather likeable. Highlights on his CV include a stint on the British Olympic diving team and kickboxing exeprtise, both of which lend themselves to the physicality of his role of choice – action hero. His career in more or less straight to video action films has certainly set him up for life, he is an undeniably popular action star and has an apparently very respectable ethic when it comes to training for and being in action films with little time for make-believe wannabees, doing most of his own stunt and fight work in the process. No, the problem with Statham is that most of his films just aren’t very good.

In recent weeks I have borne witness to The Expendables (a rambling mess that seems to go against Statham’s philosophy of what makes a good action flick), The Mechanic (a tedious and underwhelming experience), The One (better than I remembered it but still something of a travesty, especially given the presence of Jet Li) and The Transporter (which wasn’t as good as I remembered it but still probably the best film he’s done in terms of action). I’ve also had the misfortune of seeing War which sees Statham reteam with Jet Li for what is possibly one of the worst action films I’ve ever seen and easily the worst thing either of them have ever done. For the record I don’t count the Guy Ritchie films as “Statham Movies”, I’m talking more here about his action endeavours, put together as a result of his rise to superstardom.

To say my expectations for Crank were sub-basement level is probably putting it too mildly. Chev Chelios (Statham, bearing a character name that’s almost as preposterous as the plot) is an L.A. based hitman who has a problem. In the night, his rival Verona (Cantillo) has broken into his apartment and dosed him with a mysterious, slow acting Chinese poison that will cause his heart to explode. The only way Chelios can slow down his inevitable death is to inflate his adrenaline levels to counteract the effects of the poison, hopefully keeping him alive long enough to exact his brutal revenge on those responsible.

What follows is a brisk sprint through the streets of L.A. with Chelios speeding, fighting, shooting, inhaling, injecting, fucking and overdosing his way through a series of increasingly preposterous set pieces in an effort to track down his elusive nemesis that manages, somehow, against all the odds and probably thanks to the fact that it unashamedly never even attempts to take itself seriously in any way whatsoever, actually works. Like I said, my expectations were exceptionally low and so perhaps exceeding them is no great achievement, but even as Chev’s doctor (Yoakam) attempts to explain with some vaguely medical sounding terminology the process by which the poison supposedly works (the point at which under normal circumstances any other film would have abandoned me to my misery at its overwhelming idiocy) there’s something about it that makes it easy to overlook the absurdity of the scenario.

As a visual experience it is something of an oddity, often coming across like a TV movie rather than a feature film thanks to the use of hand held video cameras in certain scenes, but the mixture of camera types and formats adds to the raucous, disjointed feel of the adrenaline overdosed Chelios and so it actually enhances the film instead of detracting from it. Strange angles, fast cuts and rapid camera movements give the film a sense of urgency that, along with the plot requirement that Chelios can’t stop moving at full speed lest his heart explode, keep everything moving along at such a pace that you don’t really get a lot of time to consider how mind bogglingly silly it actually is.

Just why the film should be so much more enjoyable than other Statham vehicles is probably down to the fact that it is tongue in cheek, well aware of its own ridiculousness but revelling in the fun that such an outlandish concept allows them to have. There’s a danger with overblown action movies that they can turn into tragic self parodies if they take themselves too seriously but there is never a trace of that here. It’s daft and it knows it is and you know what? It’s proud of the fact too.

As for Statham, despite not having a lot of hand to hand combat to take care of (whatever my issues with his films his dedication to performing as many of his own stunts and fight scenes as possible is not one of them) is on top action star form here. The plot essentially requires non stup running, jumping and fighting, like some amped up computer game, all of which he handles with apparent ease. The greatest relief (and other filmmakers should take a leaf out of Crank’s book on this front) is that he isn’t putting on a stupid American accent in this film. I’m entirely serious when I suggest that not forcing him to try to sound American would improve most of his back catalogue by at least thirty seven percent. None of the characters I have seen him play have any specific need to be American, indeed their nationality is of zero importance, so why he hasn’t been allowed to just be Statham? It sounds like an insignificant point but it really does matter as if he has a dodgy accent that you find jarring it inevitably pulls you out of the action while you shake your head in disbelief that he bothered to try.

It’s not without its faults, the slightly rapey al fresco sex scene probably being its lowest point (I’m sure with a bit more thought the same scene and effect could have been achieved without the same slightly queasey feeling it left me with) and, as you might imagine, the performances are pretty average but let’s face it, it’s not the sort of film you watch for Oscar-worthy acting.

All told then, Crank has shot to the top of the list when it comes to Statham’s work. Demented it may well be, but it’s hyper kinetic, unreal, comic book feel combined with the fact it is heroically self aware of how silly its being, means it gets away with it. Brilliant it clearly isn’t but it is highly entertaining and very watchable.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Janica Buenconsejo permalink
    06/03/2012 07:55

    I agree. It being silly, ridiculous, and exhausting to watch makes it fun. But this would be a great video game.

    • 06/03/2012 17:23

      It does have a very video-gamey feel to it, like some kind of frantic platform game or something but thankfully not in the dismal way The Expendables feels like a crap level from a Call Of Duty game. Another plus: I’m sure Statham uses the word “toerag” at one stage in reference to the bad guys. That’s something you definitely don’t get to hear every day in American movies!

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