10 years later, ‘Crank’ is still an insane, adolescent thrill ride

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I fully admit that I was not a fan of Crank when it first came out 10 years ago. My younger brother was very much into it as a 13-year-old boy who desperately wanted to embrace ultra-masculine adulthood, but I perceived myself as above such things. In other words, I was a bit of a snob. However, a couple years ago I had cause to revisit Crank after being turned on to the popular podcast How Did This Get Made?, a show devoted to terrible and absurd films and comedians’ reactions to them. What I discovered was that while Crank did indeed feed into my adolescent brother’s manly power fantasies, it’s so self-aware and ridiculously fun that it hardly matters.

The premise is simple: hitman Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) wakes up in an unfamiliar house feeling ill. A DVD has been left behind that explains that a rival gang has poisoned him and left him to contemplate his imminent demise. An angry Chelios discovers that activity and excitement make him feel better, which is later explained as adrenaline staving off the effects of the poison. And so, Chelios goes on a rampage to hunt down the people responsible for poisoning him, all while protecting his girlfriend, who is blissfully ignorant of his profession as a hitman.

Jason Statham (left), Amy Smart (right)
Jason Statham (left), Amy Smart (right)

Shot in a style reminiscent of grindhouse exploitation cinema of the ’70s, Crank uses its insane premise as an excuse to go as crazy as its low budget and wildly inventive directors will allow. The camera is often in first person, distorted from the various drugs that Chelios takes, jerking the frame with the hardcore action on display. Quick cuts, zooms, and pans give the film a frenetic energy that it certainly doesn’t need with all the non-stop action on display, yet its presence kicks the film into overdrive, making it a manic display reflective of its protagonist’s frenzied mental state.

But enough of the artsy analysis: first and foremost this movie is all about seeing cool shit. You want to see a car chase through a mall that ends with a car going up an escalator? This movie has it. Do you want to see a guy get his hand cut off, then get shot by the gun that his severed hand is still holding? This movie has that, too. Do you want to see a rooftop gunfight that escalates to a hand-to-hand fight in a helicopter? Well, you get the idea. Crank subscribes to the video game style of action filmmaking: take a bunch of ideas for set pieces spread across a variety of locations, loosely string them together with story, and make the fireworks as big and loud as possible. More importantly than anything else, it’s just a lot of fun, designed with the express purpose of giving the audience the same dose of adrenaline that Chev Chelios is constantly refreshing in himself.

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Did this film leave a lasting impression on the world of cinema? Well, it did propel cinematographers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor into the spotlight, allowing them to make a superior sequel, Crank: High Voltage, three years later and continue on to make the equally insane Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance three years after that. What Neveldine and Taylor understand better than a lot of action directors is that story and characters can take a backseat so long as you have the skill to make a fun enough movie where they don’t matter. They have admitted that this is a film that was filmed in a short amount of time with whatever cool ideas popped into their head, and their creativity allowed them to steer their careers in a whole new direction. Crank is a dumb movie, but it’s made by smart and talented people who knowingly embrace the adolescent power fantasy as their cinematic sandbox. In my own adolescent days I was filled with too much angst and self-superiority to see that. Looking back on it, though, I can see that I was just depriving myself of a lot of fun.

‘Crank’ opened in theaters on this day in 2006.