Let me tell you a tale about Chev Chelios. He wakes up one morning to a throbbing headache, a trashed apartment, and a tape telling him that he’s going to die. You see, Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is a hit man for the mob, and his last hit made him some powerful enemies. Enemies who want his lofty position in the family. Enemies who have more ambition than scruples.
Enemies who injected Chev Chelios with a synthetic poison that is quickly killing him.
Needless to say, a man like Chelios doesn’t take this sort of thing lying down. No, he takes it by ripping his TV from the entertainment center and kicking the shit out of it, before tearing off in his car to find Carlito, the gangster who poisoned him, racing his impending death.
As Cheve begins tearing up the city in pursuit of Carlito, he finds that each time he does something wild and crazy, the debilitating effects of the poison seem to lessen and he’s able to act more freely. A quick call to his jet-setting doctor (played by Dwight Yoakam doing his best version of reformed-hippie-burn-out usually reserved for the likes of Brad Dourif) reveals the gimmick of the film—the poison slowly slows down his body, and only a constant adrenaline high will keep Chelios alive to see his revenge through.
This is Crank, the 2006 film by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. It is, at its heart, 90 minutes of some of the most madcap adventures ever committed to film. One could easily call Crank an action movie, because it contains many of the tropes. There’s gangsters, a girl, a guy with a deadline, a blasé approach to violence, and an absolute bloodbath of a showdown at the end. But in reality, Crank is something more. Much like movies such as Kill Bill or Kick-Ass, Crank takes its incredibly well-constructed action beyond the simply goal of crafting a genre picture and instead brings it up to the level of absurdist comedy.
This is pretty apparent from the beginning, with Chelios picking fistfights with his friends to keep his energy up, or head banging in the backseat of a car while “Don’t Break My Heart” blares, the only thing the cabbie will play. Chelios’ stunts become an escalation of wild misbehavior, injecting himself with synthetic adrenaline as he stands on top of a speeding motorcycle wearing nothing but a hospital gown reveals a movie that is first and foremost concerned with making you laugh, both incredulously and at the obvious good time had by everybody on screen.
Chelios’ girlfriend, Eve (Amy Smart), who is introduced late into the film despite Chelios’ panicked attempts to get a hold of her from the outset. She’s at home, a wide-eyed stoner innocent, ignorant of Chelios’ real job. When she enters the film reveals that this blood-soaked man, angry at the world and ready to do anything, has another side. As she gets dressed, he’s tasked with reprogramming the clock on the microwave. He makes a valiant attempt, but just staring at the clock seems to bore him to near-death, and he rushes out with her.
She is the secret heart of the film, something that appears and puts all the earlier struggles into perspective. Chelios isn’t a monster, but a man who was trying to hold onto something dear to him, the one bright spot in all this terrible violence. Eve might not be a perfect woman, but compared to everyone else she’s an angel every time she’s on screen.
In the movie’s most famous scene, Chelios is struck with the need to adrenaline dose as him and Eve exit a restaurant in Chinatown. Chelios convinces Eve to have sex with him right there on the street. Eve finally gives in reluctantly, resulting in a wildly overblown scene, as Eve gives herself over to hilarious enthusiasm at the proceedings, hundreds of Asian tourists looking at the crazy couple doing it on a newspaper machine.
The movie culminates in the final shootout and action scene, but it really is kind of inconsequential. Revenge movies of this type always end one of two ways, and from the word go Crank is the type where the hero wins. What is magical, however, is the final moment where Chelios, his revenge achieved, has a final minute of peace where, beaten and dying, he gives himself up to the new life he fought so hard for.
And it’s that weirdly touching, heartfelt moment in the midst of all this ridiculous glorification of over-the-top that makes the movie work. Crank isn’t about excess for the sake of it, it’s excess chosen to be the vehicle for this story, excess presented by people who know the beats of a movie in these genres and pushed it all to its breaking point. It’s sweet, it’s hilarious, it’s exhilarating. Often it’s dumb but it never betrays the intelligence of the people who made it or of the audience who watches it.
Crank is, first and foremost, devoted to providing a high-energy good time. And the payoff is worth it. For all its genre trappings, Crank is like no other movie out there.
Aside from maybe Crank 2, but that’s a story for another day.