Sunday, May 10, 2009


Freshmen writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s helter-skelter cartoonish actioneer “Crank” (***1/2 out of ****)qualifies as a brutal, violent, live-action, R-rated equivalent of the Energizer bunny battery commercial with agile “Transporter” star Jason Statham displaying amazing resilience as he rants and raves across L.A. on a mission of vengeance to liquidate the villains that are trying to dispatch him. Neveldine and Taylor have penned and lensed an audaciously original, first-person style, shooter video game melodrama for the attention deficit generation. “Crank” will literally nail you to your seat with its runaway plot that updates the venerable Edmund O’Brien death-by-poisoning thriller “D.O.A.” (1950) with a nod to Jan De Bont’s “Speed” (1994) where a bus wired to blow up will remain intact as long as the driver doesn’t slow down. Nevertheless, despite its homages, “Crank” amounts to a wholly unusual exercise in ramped-up, Dutch-tilt camera angles, enlivened considerably by its maniacal meth-head editing, Atari-video game graphics, Google map search inserts, and a gallery of truly warped minority characters. From the first frame to the last, Neveldine and Taylor ignore gravity and accelerate this epic into gear-grinding, overdrive with gleeful abandon.

A free-lance professional hitman, Chev Chelios, intends to quit the paid assassin gig so he can live a peaceful life with his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart of TV’s “Smith”) who thinks that he earns his living as a video game programmer. Sadly, Chev realizes to his chagrin that he has picked the wrong day to pursue the straight and narrow. Our agile antihero awakens to discover that a vile Asian mobster has injected him with a lethal dose of synthetic ‘sci-fi’ Chinese poison. Indeed, Chev watches with incredulity on his big-screen television a DVD that nefarious Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo of “Shackles”) made for him that shows the dastard administering a hypo of the deadly toxin to him in his bedroom the previous evening. Chev brought this all on himself because he iced an Asian mobster Don Kim (Keone Young of “Dude, Where’s My Car”), but the surprise is that Chev didn’t whack Kim. Nevertheless, Ricky boasts that Chev has no more than an hour to live.

Talk about suspense! Talk about cornering the hero in a cul-de-sac! “Crank” puts our protagonist into a death-defying tight spot like no other movie has dared in a long time! After he listens to sadistic Ricky Verona issue his death sentence, Chev destroys his television in a fit of rage and leaves a message for his disreputable doctor, Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam of “Sling Blade”), to call him back for an hour elapses. Chev goes on a rampage for the remainder of the film’s testosterone-laced 88 minutes that provides a surplus of momentum and raunchy merriment for those willing to suspend their disbelief to enjoy the far-fetched frantics in store for them.

No sooner does Chev discover his predicament than he hits the road in search of Ricky. He calls his transvestite friend Kaylo (Efren Ramirez of “Napoleon Dynamite”) to put the word on the street that he is looking for Ricky. Next he storms in to see an African-American gangsta, Orlando (Reno Wilson of “Fallen”), who he believes is associated with the infamous Ricky, only to learn that Orlando is looking for Ricky himself to collect $7, 500 that the Asian owes him. Chev snorts some blow from Orlando and tears off in his car. At the Las Vegas airport, Doc Miles rings Chev up and listens to his description of the poison: “The flow of adrenalin is what’s keeping you alive,” Miles explains. “You’ve got to keep moving, Chevy,” he adds. “If I’m right, they gave you the Beijing cocktail.” Miles continues with his diagnosis. “It works on the adrenal gland, blocks its receptors. The only thing you can do to slow it down at all is to keep the flow of adrenaline constant. Meaning, if you stop, you die.” During this vital expository passage, Neveldine and Taylor don’t slow down the action. Instead, the entire conversation occurs while the L.A.P.D. chases Chevy who crashes into a shopping mall to elude them and smashes through its with reckless abandon until he slams into the escalator and bails out for a cab outside the complex. As cops swarm the mall, Chev rides off in the cab, plotting his next move. He gets the cabbie to stop at a convenience store where he pilfers a supply of energy boosting, over-the-counter medications and chugs a Red Bull.

Chev takes a plunge with another gangster, his boss Carlito (Carlos Sanz of “Backdraft”) who operates a West Coast crime syndicate, in his penthouse swimming pool and plies him with questions about Ricky Verona. “There is no antidote,” Carlito gives Chev the bad news. “Honestly, you should be dead already. It’s a miracle.” Carlito laments Chev’s hit on Don Kim. “The heat from Hong Kong has been more than we anticipated.” An unhappy Chev stomps away, commandeers the cab from the driver and receives another phone call from Doc Miles. Miles explains that the Beijing cocktail “. . . is cutting off your adrenaline. Excitement, fear, and danger, it causes you body to manufacture chemicals called ephedrine. Now, what these guys have done is introduce an inhibitor to his your system. Dude, your only chance is to massively increase the level of ephedrine in your body to force out the inhibitors.”

The funniest scene follows with our anti-hero terrorizing a hospital for anything to keep his heart pumping at ninety to nothing. Initially, a pharmacist won’t give Chev any epinephrine and alerts hospital security. While this is transpiring a bystander informs him to that nasal spray, which contains epinephrine will "tweak” him. Security pursues Chev through the hospital. He changes into a hospital gown and at gun point forces an EMT to jolt him with a defibrillator. Eventually, Chev kills Ricky’s brother by chopping off the thug’s fist with a meat cleaver and then using the guy’s own gun, still encased in his fist to blow his head to smithereens like a burst watermelon. Now, Chev has to keep his girlfriend Eve out of harm’s way and kill Ricky. He catches up with her about forty minutes into the action and confides to her in a Chinese restaurant that he wants to quit the business so he can be with her. He explains that he was supposed to kill the Triad's number one man, Don Kim, but he let Kim live as long as Kim cleared out of L.A. for 48 hours. At first, Eve refuses to believe him. She walks out on him and he follows her into a public place and booty bangs her in front of a crowd of on-lookers. Half-way into sex with Eve, Chev receives a phone call from Kaylo. Kaylo has found Ricky Verona and Chev pulls out of Eve and heads off to join Kaylo. Predictably, Eve is embarrassed when she realizes the spectacle that she presented to the scores of bystanders.

Chev catches a ride in another cab with yet another ethnic type and tastes some crazy stuff that is supposed to make him like the devil. When he arrives at the rendezvous to take out Verona, Chev gets a queasy feeling. Instead of riding the elevator up to the third floor, he sneaks up to the roof, catches one of Don Carlos Carlito's thugs and throws him off the building. Chev learns that Don Carlos has killed Keylo, strangling and suffocating him simultaneously, and Don Carlos' henchmen advise Chev to find a quiet dark place and die. They will deal with Ricky Verona, but for the time being Chev has become such a media figure with his antics, especially running around in a hospital gown with a steel hard-on that Carlito simply wants him to disappear. About that time, Eve walks into the building and Chev opens up on the Mexicans, blasting away at them while he grabs Eve and they make their escape. After they clear the building, Eve explains that she had to find out if Chev had told the truth about being a hit man.

Doc Miles equips Chev with an insulin pump to feed his body the ephedrine and he goes to visit Don Carlos and finds Ricky Verona with him. Don Carlos prepares to give Chev another injection when out of nowhere appears Don Kim and his goon squad. Another gunfight erupts. Ricky jumps onto Don Carlos' helicopter, but Chev leaps on board, too. Over Los Angeles the slug it out in the chopper. Ricky and Chev topple out of the helicopter and "Crank" concludes with Chev's falling body.

“Crank” amounts to the most jacked-up joyride of all cinematic joyrides. Jason Statham was born to play Chev Chelios and Amy Smart is ideal as his dumb, blond girlfriend. Hust when you think that the plot is set in concrete, something different happens and changes everything. “Crank” features a plethora of bloody violence, profane language (as many as 115 f-words), low-life sexuality, and rampant drug abuse. Virtually the entire cast reprised their roles in the superior sequel.

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