In the ten years since Neveldine & Taylor’s CRANK raged into theaters, we have seen the wave of faux exploitation cinema crest and crash. Films like GRINDHOUSE, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, and IRON SKY were obviously infatuated with big birdcages and machete maidens, but their try-hard scrambling to replicate the trashy (and maybe) charming sensibilities of yesteryear rarely rang true. Sometimes, you just can’t go home again.
CRANK’s inspirations seem more GRAND THEFT AUTO than THE WILD ANGELS, but Neveldine & Taylor managed to capture Roger Corman’s “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way” determination when other pretenders simply fell short.
CRANK is not interested in mimicry. Instead, the maniacs behind the camera embrace the ADD generation, and launch full throttle at the sensibilities of prim and proper grown-ups. CRANK revels in base emotions, celebrating racial stereotypes, misogyny, and good old fashion ultra violence. It’s a SOUTH PARK assault where no human is safe; even Jason Statham’s Cro-Magnon melon gets a ribbing. As the credits roll, whatever jokes or absurd atrocities you laughed at should have you questioning your eternal resting place. Neveldine & Taylor are not concerned. Mock everybody, and let god sort em out.
In the 23rd century, when we’re living our utopian ideals aboard starships and deep space stations, we will look back on films like CRANK as the product of backwards thinking troglodytes. What on Earth is the appeal of such a movie? How can you defend such depravity? It’s an honest concern that I face when I enjoy a film like CRANK so much.
Everyone loves the impossible win. A story that sets up our hero in a hopeless situation where certain death is obvious to most except those who’ve been raised on Hollywood. Jason Statham’s L.A. street assassin Chev Chelios stumbles out of sleep and right into the plot of the 1950’s classic noir, D.O.A. While he was sleeping, instead of Sandra Bullock creepily obsessing over him, local mini thug Verona injected a Chinese poison into his bloodstream. He’s a dead man, unless he can keep his adrenaline pumping long enough to place him in front of the villains who betrayed him. Chelios survives through his rage, an emotion that appears to be bottomless.
Similar to a lot of noirs, there is an overly complicated plot. There’s some business involving rival gangs and secret assassinations, and Chelios is that typical pawn supposedly being manipulated by confident kingpins. A lot of CRANK’s comedy stems from Chelios surprising the assured with brutal beat downs and severed limbs. Amy Smart enters the picture midway through as Chelios’ adorable doped-up girlfriend, and learns about both his profession and medical condition when he attempts to rev up his heart through an unbelievable display of public sex. No does not mean no in CRANK, and what starts out as a sexual assault transforms into consensual rage shagging. Is that Kosher? Absolutely not, and it is one of those key scenes you’ll have to justify or bury during your closing credits enjoyment.
CRANK is an ugly film. It wins you over simply through astonishment; you cannot believe what you’re seeing. Most of that is a result to its exploitative glee, but a whole heap of it has to be attributed to Neveldine & Taylor’s rollerblade camerawork. Shot on cheapie cameras purchased at Best Buy and Circuit City, Neveldine & Taylor inject energy into the film through insane feats of stunt work. No wires, no CG (or at least as little as possible in this industry these days), just great gobs of moviemaking bravado. The directing duo shoot, splice, and smash their aesthetic with a madness tailor made for film freaks bred on video games and youtube.
As the film erupts into its squib-bursting climax, you still don’t think that CRANK will fully embrace its noir fatality. For our hero to find life in taxi stomping renditions of “Achy Breaky Heart” to inevitably succumb to his toxic disease would be a massive bummer. However, that’s the last surprise CRANK offers. Chev Chelios meets death on his own terms, and fully accepts his hopeless Film Noir hero status by ripping Verona from the helicopter, snapping his neck mid-plummet, and resigning himself to a pancake finale.
The pleasure of exploitation cinema resides in its enthusiasm to thumb its nose at polite society. CRANK drags its audience through the muck, and you either grab on tight or run screaming for the nearest exit. You should feel a pang of unease when grinning at its Looney Tune violence, or chuckling at some awful characterization. Grindhouse movies are there to pick at your nerves, and to show the rom com crowd that there are other options than A to B to C storytelling.
Now, if you thought CRANK was irredeemable than CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE will have you feeling wistful for the McCarthy Hearings. “Are you now, or were you ever a CRANK fanatic?” I must shakily raise my hand. Please, don’t think less of me.