Movie Review: Crank
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2006
Directed by: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Stars: 4 out of 5
Is there such thing as too much action in a movie? "Don't be ridiculous," say the good people who made "Crank." With this film, Hollywood has at last found the action movie event horizon-the point at which action sequences have so increased in mass and density that they cease to punctuate the movie they're in and actually become the main driver of the plot. Surprisingly, "Crank" manages the trick quite well by way of a plot device-the protagonist will literally die if he doesn't constantly keep his heart rate really high-so contrived that it must be taken as a covert wink to the audience, signaling that the following ninety minutes is going to be nonstop chase scenes punctuated with gunfire. In other words, it's awesome and it doesn't care who knows it.
Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is a professional hit man with a heart of gold who works for a crime syndicate in Los Angeles. He'd like to take a break from killing people for money to spend more time at home with his girlfriend, but it won't be quite that easy. Chev's rival hit man Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) has covertly injected him with a serum that will kill him if he doesn't keep his heart rate up. Chev reacts to the bad news as only a hit man could by launching a one-man crusade to straighten out the whole mess and get his hands on Verona while keeping his heart pounding the whole time.
"Crank" is an action movie about a professional killer with a satisfying personal life who will die if he stops flipping cars and jumping off of rooftops, so instant true-to-life naturalism and sophisticated character development are not going to be priorities here. This movie was written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who seem to have been writing the script with an eye toward what sort of action it was going to be physically possible to render on the screen. That said, "Crank" benefits from having a directing team that clearly knew the script inside and out and that could make those crucial last-minute adjustments to dialogue and pacing that can keep a movie like this from descending into wholly unconvincing attempts to simulate human interaction against an explodey background. "Crank" navigates these treacherous waters well and even manages to achieve a level of success with the inherently contradictory task of making impossibly larger-than-life characters relatable to a mass audience.
Nobody goes to an action movie for the acting. That said, an audience will definitely notice if something has gone awry in the actors' performances; think "Attack of the Clones." In a movie like "Crank," where the protagonist is driven by what is essentially a domestic urge revolving around the yearning to retire from a life of adventure to home and hearth, the temptation to descend into pathos can be too much to resist for a performer. There's usually a strong tendency for the actors to do that thing where they sigh heavily and squint into the distance a lot before delivering tons of expositional monologue about what it all means. This kind of action-toxic maundering is mercifully avoided in "Crank." It isn't clear whether the wreath for this admirable restraint should be laid at the feet of the directors or the cast, but given that none of the actors playing major characters in this film started channeling high school drama class, it probably is a result of a joint effort.
The task of a cinematographer is to set the look and feel of a film with lighting choices and a color palette that will inspire a certain mood in the audience. In a way, it's like telepathy or hypnosis in that a good director of photography (DP) can use a single frame to tell a viewer almost as much about the emotional reality of the film as an hour of dialogue. In a movie like "Crank," where dialogue is essentially of secondary importance, the DP's job is going to be even more central to the film's success. Cinematographer Adam Biddle unfortunately had to begin with an inauspicious subject-the washed-out orange haze of every movie ever set in Los Angeles combined with the angry glare of a typical action movie-but still managed to spin gold from unpromising straw. The compositions in each scene of "Crank" are tightly focused and compelling, lending a kind of maudlin gravity to the otherwise over-the-top action.
"Crank" never pretends to be something other than an action movie, and this is its salvation. The action is fast and well paced, and the performances fit around it without becoming an obstacle. "Crank" is exactly the movie it promises to be.