Chelios (Statham) wakes up one morning and finds a DVD sitting on his television labeled with a message that gets his attention. He can’t figure out why he feels like he has been drugged, but watching the DVD, he learns that Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a rival, knocked him out the previous night, and injected a synthetic Chinese drug into his veins. The drug will slowly cause his heart to stop and he will die. He learns that Verona has done this because Chelios killed a Chinese businessman and gangster, at the request of his boss, Carlito (Carlos Sanz). Chelios also learns that he might be able to prolong his life if he keeps the adrenaline pumping through his veins. Fear, pain, sex can all help. He sets out to exact revenge on Verona and frequently has to stop and provide his heart with a form of stimulation, in order to keep going. Eventually, he reaches Eve (Amy Smart), his drugged out girlfriend who has been sleeping for the last hour and saves her just as Verona’s men are about to kill her. Will Chelios be able to exact revenge? Will his doctor, Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam), a seedy practitioner who probably has no license, make it back from Vegas to help his stay alive?
Written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, “Crank” is the latest in a line of action vehicles starring Jason Statham, the tall Brit who first came to our attention in the films of Guy Ritchie. Since then, he has appeared in supporting roles in many films, but also manages the occasional starring role. These films all have one thing in common; there is little basis in reality. In “The Transporter” films, created by Luc Besson, Statham plays a sort of bodyguard who transports valuable cargo. In each film, his cargo is stolen and he has to get it back, leading to some amazing, yet over the top car chases and action sequences. Now, in “Crank”, he plays a resourceful assassin living in Los Angeles. One morning, he wakes up and finds out that a rival has essentially murdered him, but he only has a certain amount of time to live. Naturally, he isn’t going to sit around, he is going to exact revenge. So he rushes to his car and speeds away, looking for Verona. As he drives, his vision begins to blur, his heart begins to beat a little strangely (which we can watch, because the filmmakers have helpfully provided close ups of many details throughout, both relevant and not so relevant) and he starts to crash into vehicles and eventually drives into a shopping mall causing panic.
“Crank” isn’t the type of film requiring actors, at least to act. The actors play characters, but they rarely exhibit more than one facial expression or emotion. Statham’s character never does anything but grimace. Smart’s character shows the most range, from drugged out to barely conscious, but her character only appears for a brief period, late in the film. Everyone else is somehow related to gangs or crime, so they all appear tough and ornery, snarling or frowning throughout.
“Crank” is the type of film that you go to hoping for some impressive action sequences and the film delivers. Really, anything else would just get in the way. And it is also the type of film that you expect to take these same sequences to an extreme. Anything else would be a disappointment. So, when Chelios drives his car into a mall, it is sort of humorous, because he is talking to someone on his cell phone and when they ask where he is, he replies “I’m just at the mall”. But just driving through the mall isn’t going to cut it. The sequence has to end in a neat and unusual way. And it does providing laughter.
At one point, Chelios steals a motorcycle from a cop. But merely driving the motorcycle through the streets wouldn’t cut it. He has to wear a hospital gown and ride the motorcycle standing on the seat, his butt showing through the crack in the robe. Don’t ask. It wouldn’t make sense if you did. The filmmakers play fast and loose with logic creating a fun, fast paced story.
“Crank” is also a product of the ‘kitchen sink’ school of filmmaking. They throw in everything, whether it makes sense or not, hoping for something to stick. Chelios learns from his doctor that he needs a drug called Epinephrine, to counteract the effects of the drug the gangster gave him. As they talk, the word appears on the screen. Throughout, as Chelios announces he has to find someone, the screen shows a Google map and zeroes in on this persons location. At key points, we watch Chelios heart beat. We even get to see the heart beat of a pigeon. Not sure why. Does it matter?
There is also a lot of humor in the film. Considering the outlandish nature of the story and the acting, this isn’t surprising, but the filmmakers take this to another level all together. Remember I said that Chelios needs to provide his heart with adrenaline and a number of things provide this? One of those things is sex, so when he feels his heart slowing down and realizes his girlfriend (Smart) is with him; he knows what he has to do. It doesn’t matter that he is in the middle of a busy street in Chinatown.
“Crank” is rated R and for good reason. The film is filled with language, nudity (both female and male) and violence. I probably just sold some tickets to the film. But it happens in such a cartoonish universe that no one can really take any of it seriously. At one point, Chelios visits his boss, Carlito, at his penthouse. Naturally, Carlito is going to have a bunch of beautiful young women sitting around the pool topless. But because we expect these types of things to happen, and they do, the filmmakers have added small twists to each of these scenarios. When Carlito decides to take a swim, he is surprised to find Chelios at the other end of the pool, underwater, waiting for him.
“Crank” is not a great film; I can’t help but think what Luc Besson, the king of these silly action films, might have brought, but it is an entertaining film, which will clearly appeal to the male population, giving them an adrenaline boost and making them feel a little more like a man, for a few hours.