Oh Jason Statham, with your bonce like an angry deodorant, gritting your teeth as you battle on with your contractually obliged five o’clock shadow, charging producers by the punch. You’ve had a decent run: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Gnomeo and Juliet. And this weekend, Wild Card, directed by Simon West, the man who began his directorial career with Con Air.
Imagine being in Con Air, Jason. You would have loved it. All those criminally insane action legends mucking about on a flying prison. It’s the kind of high-concept beat-em-up tomfoolery you live for. Just like when you appeared in Crank as Chev Chelios, a hitman injected with a poison by cholo gangster stereotype Verona, that will kill him if his adrenaline levels drop too low. You would have loved that segue too. Not that you’re dead. It would take more than a misinterpreted conditional verb to kill Jason Statham.
Let’s put any and all mockery aside for a moment. The concept is genius. It’s an action film where action isn’t just the aim; it’s hardwired into the very fabric of the story. If Statham isn’t doing something thrilling then he’s dead, which makes for a perfect action film where boredom is Chev’s enemy as much as the audience’s. It also leads to some truly absurd moments as Chev’s twin goals of staying alive and killing Verona clash. In some strange way it feels like Vincent Vega’s entire plotline from Pulp Fiction given an absurdist action film twist: the adrenaline injections, the self-referential dialogue, the pissed-off gangsters and the comedic take on the life of a hitman.
The cartoon-y direction
Directors Neveldine and Taylor push their visuals as far as possible in pursuit of the same thrill ride as Chev Chelios, injecting energy and anger into every frame. Normally this manifests itself in aggressive hand-held tracking shots, but the subtler touches are what really elevate their work. As Chev desperately snorts up cocaine from the floor, the camera jerks in, zooming a few centimetres closer with each sniff. Minutes later Chev is, in his own words, “kicking some black ass” inside a bar but instead of showing us an expensive fight sequence, we simply see an exterior shot of the dive bar bulging outwards under the chaos of the fight, like something out of Looney Tunes. Somehow the cartoon comparison feels apt.
There are few simpler pleasures in life than watching Jason Statham sprint around L. A. in a hospital gown whilst high on adrenaline. The Stath is superb as Chev Chelios, nailing a very British form of deadpan sarcasm. His gallows humour is perfectly contrasted with the mad situation he finds himself in and the psychedelic visuals conjured up by Neveldine, Taylor and their special effects team. He even brings a bit of everyman poignancy to the role in the final scenes as he moves away from desperately raging against the dying of the light to accepting his fate with ready arms.
“What, do you think I’ve got cunt written across my forehead?”
This is the best of a series of great moments that use on-screen text to heighten and stylise Chev’s world. Adding to the cartoon-ish, larger-than-life tone, they represent a low-budget precursor to the ground-breaking textual graphics Edgar Wright would later use in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World to faithfully represent a comic book world.
I think I’m turning Japanese I think I’m turning Japanese I really think so
Understandably, the ordeal of keeping his adrenaline levels so high sends Chev a little bit cuckoo. The surreal highlight of his madness is when he’s sharing a lift with this Asian businessman who begins speaking with his mother’s cockney accent, telling him off for never calling or visiting her. He then slips into the voice of Orlando, Chev’s black friend; and then into the voice of the Latino Verona, before finally becoming Chev himself. Staring into the mirror of his own madness, Chev self-reflexively examines his own thrill-seeking tendencies as he heads upstairs for the final showdown with Verona…
The final shot in the film is really quite beautiful. Chev dives out of a helicopter, taking Verona with him, and the pair plummet thousands of feet towards the earth. Chev chokes out Verona in mid-air and is left to contemplate the end of his life as the ground rushes to meet him. He calls his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) with one final farewell as Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” fades in. It’s a peaceful moment of calm and transcendence that’s the perfect end to a film that’s been all about frantic action and chaos. Rest in Peace Chev Chelios.
I mean…why bother? They are literally using Google Earth here. I’m kind of impressed at their chutzpah actually.
You won’t like him when he’s angry
When Chev Chelios gets angry he smashes up TVs like an Amish Incredible Hulk edited by a knock-off Tony Scott (R.I.P.). Editor Brian Berdan may have thrown in some freeze frames alongside the roaring metal music soundtrack, but The 400 Blows this ain’t.
Getting down in Chinatown
“Do you trust me?”
“Then make love to me”.
*Cue “Let’s Get it On” by Barry White*
*Cue Chev having sex with Eve in the middle of a bustling Chinatown*
Yup. That happens. Chev and Eve go at it as if their lives depend on it, right in front of a square full of passing Chinese shoppers. Most of them start cheering or commentating on the two lovebirds. It makes you wonder: how would you react if you stumbled upon two people shagging in broad daylight in the middle of Leicester Square? I think we can agree that you probably wouldn’t start correcting their technique.
No means no
The aforementioned sex scene starts life more than a little dodgily, with Eve repeatedly refusing to have sex with Chev. He pins her down – all still to the horribly jarring strains of “Let’s Get It On” – and kisses her, and after a few seconds she relents. Even then, Chev is still in charge, pulling out of the encounter at the last minute after receiving a phone call with Verona’s whereabouts. This scene’s approach to consent is a little troubling to say the least and is probably the low-point for Amy Smart’s underwritten character.
Crank is more than just your average low-budget action film. Crank is an absurd, surreal, deadpan thrill-ride through the desperate mind of an ordinary man who just wants to live. Statham is superb and sympathetic as Chev Chelios, supported by a strong performance from Amy Smart that establishes their doomed relationship as the heart of the film.
There are plenty of flaws: at 110 minutes the film drags out a bit for such a self-professed thriller and fatally the action sequences are rarely as exciting as they should be, given the premise. Nevertheless, Neveldine and Taylor create a powerful visual style, bringing real directorial vision and a touch of sly humour to what could have been a very straightforward film.
Star Rating: 2/5
Kane Rating: 4/5