In the classic 1950 noir thriller D.O.A., a man runs around town trying to find the S.O.B. who injected him with a lethal toxin, whereas for their 2006 debut, Crank, writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brain Taylor reworked the concept by giving their poor schmo the identity of his killer right from the beginning, and forcing him to push the his body's adrenaline limitations to stay alive. Add cartoon violence and supreme moments of absurdism, and you have the most insane film of 2006.
As the filmmakers recount in the onscreen commentary track (more on that later), Crank was written over four days, the script grabbed an agent's attention before it was shopped around town in the traditional manor, and the project was greenlit by an enthusiastic Lions Gate.
In spite of major concerns regarding his own comedic skills, Jeremy Statham, best-known for the equally cartoonish Transporter films, agreed to play the part of a man who, at one point, stands in a Christ pose on the seat of a moving motorcycle, while his bare cheeks illuminate the surrounding L.A. traffic.
Neveldine/Taylor, as they're billed in the film, are longtime cinematographers who share a maniacal extreme camera style. What's so satisfying about their approach is its complete unpretentiousness: the freeze-frames, cheeky title superimpositions, digital morphing, use of Google maps, and mix of 35mm film and high-def video footage evoke intersecting planes of differing adrenalized worlds for the killers; for Statham's exhausted and sometimes erected Chev, as seen by us, and via POV shots that cover his ebbing adrenaline level; and in flashbacks that, in vintage filmmaking style, focus on specific scene components via high contrast filters, and stylized lighting.
Part of the trickery stem from the film's tight budget, but with the exception of a handful of specific shots that reveal the film's primary video origins, Crank looks absolutely gorgeous, and the high-def DVD release should test the colour range and sharpness of a widescreen TV set.
The soundtrack is equally robust, and most of the score makes use of existing source songs in potent little chunks that simultaneously recall the mindless action films of the eighties, and the satirical resonance of pop songs in classic Warner Bros. cartoons (particularly the filmmaker's use of the evil “Achy, Breaky Heart”).
It all sounds familiar, but unlike new directors desperate to make a splash with agents & studios, and impress genre fans looking for the latest pop culture garburator, the film's stylistic extremes have an organic kineticism that push the envelope, and makes those entranced by Crank 's insanity giggle with teenage glee.
Neveldine/Taylor make no apologies for the film's up-front sexism: in her interview snippets, Amy Smart may truly believe the character of Eve is a woman with plenty of smarts, a strong independent streak, and an admirable devotion to good old Chev, but as the only real female character in the film (the bikini-clad bimbos in the plastic patio bubbles do NOT count), she's pretty much an inflatable fantasy doll with more sophisticated moving parts. Her most infamous scenes include getting boffed in a Chinatown market square, and keeping Chev's adrenaline in circulation by putting her head and tongue between his legs during a car chase.
All of the film's primary and secondary characters, as well as key filmmaking crew, appear in the DVD's commentary track, which makes use of videotaped interview applets that pop up when the “Crank'd Out Mode” track is engaged. Unlike standard multi-person tracks, the visual aspects put a face to the speaker, thereby eliminating any repeated identification. when a speaker returns to the track. What's really impressive is the coverage, as the DVD's producers also acquired interviews with the film's cinematographer Adam Biddle, producer, stunt coordinator, and studio executives (who give us an albeit flattering but well-rounded discussion of Crank 's production).
There's a secondary audio track that re-dubs PG words over the film's multi-faceted profanity, though the efforts seems more like a gimmick, as any network airing would have to notably reduce the film's frank sexuality and graphic gore. (The gore is very cartoonish, but as the filmmakers explain, they're also avid fans of George Romero and eighties slasher films, hence the repeated trauma and indignation to hands.)
There's no way Lions Gate can squeeze a sequel from this film, but it'll be interesting to see what the filmmakers will select for their second outing as directors.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan