2006 was a great year for action cinema, if only because Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor released Crank, their very first feature. A film that would quickly garner a cult following, ultimately leading to an even better sequel (and plenty of fan-produced trailers for a third entry in the series). It somewhat redefined what action films could be, though its hyperactive style proved too demanding to survive the mainstream for a prolonged period of time. The upside of this is that Crank hasn't really aged all that much, so revisiting it is still a pretty big thrill.
Even though Crank isn't truly groundbreaking, the deliberate demotion of the narrative in combination with the highly energetic cinematography did (and still does in fact) feel quite fresh and novel. It's pretty much what Dead Leaves did a couple of years earlier (though in animated form) and what Hardcore Henry would refine some years later: delivering non-stop action while largely refusing to flesh out the characters and storyline. A choice that is sure to divide the room, but is a welcome change of pace.
Crank breaks with the common idea that in order to enjoy genre cinema, you need to care about the characters. Most action, horror, sci-fi, fantasy etc.. films still spend a lot of time building up a setting, a narrative and likeable characters. Time that could be spent on delivering cooler, crazier and more grotesque genre elements, a challenge Neveldine and Taylor readily accepted. As a viewer you get very little time to settle in, in return the "genre to runtime" ratio is truly through the roof.
While the film is not totally devoid of plot, it's little more than a skeleton. A simple hook that fuels and supports the action. But to give credit where credit is due, it's a damn smart hook. When hitman Chelios wakes up one morning, he receives a video message explaining he's been injected with a lethal poison. A call to his doctor reveals that the only way to survive this ordeal is to keep his adrenaline levels up. So Chelios sets off on a mad rampage through the city, snorting, stealing, breaking and yes, even banging whatever or whoever crosses his path. His only motive: revenge on the guy that did this to him.
Besides the wide variation in action sequences, there is also a strong visual component that contributes heavily to Crank's flair. An extremely agile camera that follows the characters everywhere, rapid editing and an abundance of visual effects all add to the hyperactive feel of the film. The execution may be a little rough around the edges, but the ideas are grand and the result proved extremely effective. Neveldine and Taylor would go on to perfect their signature style in following projects, which is why this film does feel a bit crude in places, but as a first effort it was downright impressive.
Equally important is the sound design, which is tightly coupled to the visuals. Not so much the music itself though, which it is generally okay for an action film but isn't all that special. The sound effects and the editing on the other hand are pretty bad ass. From the whoozy ringtone to the warped and distorted sounds that reflect Chelios' state of mind (and body), it ties in perfectly with the visual editing to create a uniform experience. It's not often that you see directors go through the trouble to sync and edit the sound in combination with the visuals, but as Crank illustrates it definitely pays off.
The actors are pretty B-grade, apart from Jason Statham that is. Statham may not have a very wide range as an actor, but when a part feels like it was written especially for him, he generally delivers. He's pretty badass, his accent is the right kind of juicy and somehow he gets away with surviving the craziest situations. Amy Smart isn't too bad either, considering how little she had to work with, but in the end this is Statham's show and he eclipses all who get close to him.
Ultimately, Crank is a film that revolves around focus and purity. Rather than offer a well-balanced, well-rounded experience, Neveldine and Taylor decided to strip all the excess fat and simply make the coolest action flick they could muster. If you need solid character motivations, a fleshed-out storyline and breathers in between the action, this probably isn't the film for you. If on the other hand you feel you can deal with the mad rollercoaster ride presented here, there are very few films that improve on or even match what Crank has to offer.
Crank bears all the markings of enthusiastic first-time film makers. It's not as slick or polished as it could have been, but it makes up for that with an onslaught of wild ideas and raw, unfiltered energy. The audiovisual impact hasn't faded since, Statham was perfectly cast, there's no lack of surprises and the action is top notch, all in all Crank is an action fan's wet dream. It's a shame films like these are few and far between, on the other hand it does make Crank all the more special. Recommended for hardcore action fans, others should approach with caution.