CRANK written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, with Jason Statham and Amy Smart. 87 minutes. A Maple Films release. Opens Friday (September 1). For venues and times, see Movies, page 108. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
This is flat out the greatest hard action movie since Die Hard. That's hard action: people suffer and die onscreen. There's blood and body parts. That alone jacks it above the pablum usually served up as action.
Crank wastes not a frame. It puts its hero in mortal danger and violent, vengeance-seeking motion in the first five minutes and, except for a breath-catcher before the climax, keeps him fighting and fleeing till the end.
All this is due to a near-perfect premise: our hero (Jason Statham of The Transporter) is a hit man who wakes up to learn he's been poisoned by some kind of adrenal blocker. He's got one hour to live, one hour to kill his killer and a desperate need to stay wired to the max on whatever kind of vicious uppers he can lay his hands on.
That idea perfectly justifies a visual style that correlates closely with Hunter S. Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Amid the frantic pace, jagged cutting, truly berserk and original set pieces, we're half in and half out of his mind and so is he wondering, "Are those girls in the plastic bubbles real or is he hallucinating again?" This leads to some great throwaway gags, like the backwards subtitles on the Asian businessman's POV shot.
It also sets us up for an actual metaphor, the action hero as Everyman. He's us, cellphone in one hand, big gun in the other, great big woody and a floral hospital gown, racing madly toward" what? At the moment, we don't know and neither does he. Another nice thing about this movie: it presumes we're paying attention and doesn't spoon-feed us the exposition.
And if you think an actioner is no place for metaphor, stop listening to the Hollywood flack flingers. They want you stupid. How else can they sell you Revenge Of The Sith? Fact is, you can make good art out of anything.
The metaphor kicks up a notch when Amy Smart steps in as the hero's slightly sleazy stoner girlfriend. It's a terrific performance. She's just ditzy enough to spin the whole thing into action comedy without sapping the film's energy, violence or utterly amoral attitude. Her outdoor sex scene with Statham has to be seen to be believed.
And that's another good thing sex in an actioner. How long has it been since we've seen that? Thank you, marketing weasels, ratings thugs MPAA and pre-pubescent-minded Steven Spielberg.
If the movie has a flaw, it's that the climax isn't as wild as the rest of the movie. It's not weak, just not quite as surprising as we might hope.
Mark Neveldine, a former stunt player and coordinator, and Brian Taylor, who worked in visual effects and as a second-unit director, make their directorial debut here. Those backgrounds explain much. Let's hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship.