Thursday, February 25, 2021

Reserved Seating Presents Hundos: CRANK

 by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino

The review duo who call each other from midair.

Rob: Welcome back to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: Our Hundos series — celebrating the one-hundredth highest-grossing film of a given year — continues with 2006’s Crank. The plot of Crank is simple: L.A. Hitman Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) has been poisoned by rival Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and has to keep his heart beating long enough to get his revenge. To do so, he’ll need help from his pal Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam), his best girl, Eve (Amy Smart), and a basket of assorted deplorables, methamphetamines, and gleefully irresponsible action hijinx. Written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, Crank is a stunning exercise in creativity, innovation, and balls-to-the-wall filmmaking craft. It’s a film that literally has to keep ramping up the adrenaline in order to cross the finish line, and yet it also makes just enough time for character nuance to keep the audience invested. Perhaps best of all? It’s eighty-seven minutes long.

It had been a while since I’d last seen Crank. I admit that I was cringing a bit when this rewatch began, anticipating the kind of red-pill edgelord nonsense that renders so many actioners of Crank’s ilk completely unwatchable. And while it’s true that Crank sports its share of socially-unacceptable behavior (racism, homophobia, attempted rape, etc.), I’ve found in recent years that the only criteria by which to truly assess a film is whether or not it succeeds at what it sets out to accomplish. Crank does. It really, really does. It pairs moments of absurdity (A pigeon becoming visibly aroused by a woman’s thong) with those of serenity (Statham standing up on a moving motorcycle while wearing nothing but a hospital gown) with ease. It’s violent without becoming excessive and comes by its irreverence earnestly. Like its lead character, the film behaves as though it’s constantly improvising with only the materials available in a given moment and choosing the path of most resistance at every turn.

Aside from the fact that “Chev Chelios” is just a fantastic name for an action protagonist, this is also a true movie star performance from Jason Statham, a persona he’s taken with him into every (mostly lesser) subsequent project. Smart and Yoakam shine, as well, both completely game to sell the preposterous world in which their characters live. Knowing full well that this is a film that could never (and maybe should never) be made today, I had a ton of fun with Crank.

Adam, what do you think of Crank?
Adam: This was only my second viewing of Crank (I’ve yet to see its sequel) and I remember not liking it very much back in 2006. My gripe at the time wasn’t as much the tastelessness of the content (we’ll get back to that), but more the editing and cinematography choices. On this revisit, I had that same problem for about 10 minutes and then I got swept up in the world of Crank and enjoyed the movie for what it is.

I think a couple of things changed for me: 1) I’ve seen a lot more Jason Statham at this point than I had in 2006, and Crank is an example of a kind of movie Statham does as good as anyone - the live action cartoon. I was impressed with his performance this time because it’s almost like a meta acting exercise. Just as Chev Chelios needs to maintain his adrenaline, Statham needed to keep that level of energy up for take after take after take. It’s not easy, so kudos to both Statham and Neveldine/Taylor for keeping the chase element for 87 sustained minutes. Plus, unlike Shaw or some of Statham’s more recent characters, Chev is an unapologetically bad dude. Even the things they do to soften him up are tongue in cheek. I respect that he’s an asshole and proud of it. 2) Back in the day I was put off by Crank’s glibness, but then later I saw movies like Hardcore Henry and Shoot ‘Em Up, which are so much more self-satisfied that it makes Crank look sincere by comparison.

Rob: Totally. Hardcore Henry is essentially the worst-case scenario of something like this, but Crank has an offbeat integrity to it that prevents its “mania” from feeling performative. These are real scum bums making real scum bum art.
Adam: Do I feel dirty for liking this movie? Yes, but it’s not the first movie to make me feel like that and it won’t be the last. This is Bad Boys II all over again. I can cringe and be thrilled in the confines of the same movie. Enjoying it overall doesn’t make me a bad person or say I’m giving tacit approval to the behavior or attitudes of the movie. On the other hand, if someone is put off by the content in Crank, I completely understand that position, too. What did you think of the stuff with Amy Smart? I think she’s an underrated comedic actor and her gameness in Crank is not a small thing in ensuring the movie is enjoyed in the spirit in which it’s intended. On the other hand, the sex scene is problematic, which has to be acknowledged.

Rob: It’s totally problematic, and it gets us back into the ongoing “depiction is not endorsement” conversation. In order to keep his heart rate up, Chelios attempts to force sex on his girlfriend for about fifteen seconds before she gets into it and they go for it against a newsstand in front of all those tourists. By any modern standard, that is not okay. He’s an unapologetically bad dude (as you mentioned), but he’s also presented as our hero. Worse, the whole thing is played for laughs. But, again: Crank is going for broke. Chelios is a bad dude being bad, and Smart seems totally cognizant of what the scene is, how it’s being presented, and how to play it for maximum intensity. The film even angles it as a character moment (“You said you wanted to be more spontaneous!”) and Smart’s character eventually pays the whole gag off with a bit of revenge later on. Does that make the whole thing copacetic? Nope! Does that rob it of its artistic value? Also nope!
Did you have a favorite action gag or moment in Crank? I really enjoyed the bit in the hospital when Dennis from It’s Always Sunny defibrillates him and sends him flying into the elevator. The doors are open the whole time, so you know it’s coming, but it still gave me a chuckle. I also thought Yoakam’s laser-guided nonchalance as the doctor was hysterical.

Adam: A couple that come to mind is when Statham is running down the street after injecting too much adrenaline and Amy Smart hiccupping through the scene where Statham tells her what he really does for a living.

Anything else on Crank? It was a fun revisit.

Rob: No, except that I’ll definitely be revisiting 2009’s Crank: High Voltage. Chelios lives!

Adam: We’ll be back next week celebrating two 1988 films in honor of F This Movie Fest week - Biloxi Blues and Bright Lights, Big City. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.

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