Monday, May 11, 2009

I'm not the gay.

Hilarious. If Rambo 4 could possibly be read as a audience-baiting challenge for people who enjoy action films, Crank 2 is the ultimate action movie as comedy, taking the piss out of action movie violence itself rather than attempting to inject humour via characters whilst keep the action straight (see Pineapple Express) or lampooning the genre.

The Crank films recognise that the very idea of action movies are ridiculous, and throw the improbably named Chev Chelios into one insane situation after another, maintaining a breakneck pace via a McGuffin which sees our man Chev having to race about a nondescript and dirty-looking Los Angeles, this time around trying to juice up his newly installed artificial heart so that he can last long enough to get them what done this.
Statham is excellent as the unapologetically cockney hardman, the frequent swearing fitting perfectly with the sketchy character whilst managing not to become a grating cartoon (there is something meaty in the way that he spits out a throwaway “Cunt!” at the body of a henchman, in the manner of another bullet fired in anger at daring to slow Chelios down as he chases the guy what he thinks done this). Maintaining a deadpan demeanour throughout succeeds in convincing us of his character within an unconvincing world of inane caricatures, creating a friction that racks up the laughs, albeit hysterical ones.

The nearest comparison I can think of is to the films of Takashi Miike. The unreasonably prolific director varies wildly in the quality of his output, but with such a large number of releases this makes for a favourable number of hits. The common aspect that unites his films is that they rarely ever stick to the genre. Mostly working for the Japanese straight-to-retail market (the Hollywood equivalent would be the fetid production houses that help Wesley Snipes pay off his tax debts), Miike is in the position that would usually be filled by hacks, churning out solid but predictable B pictures with low budgets. Instead, Miike takes the genre staples as the bare bones of a framework, and drapes them in the flesh of what sometimes resembles the aftermath of a nuclear attack on an ideas factory.

Of recent entries into the Western action picture, Taken is a good example of the usual high-water mark. It is solid with well-shot action set pieces, convincing fights and a generally lean plot that serves as a means to get to the meat of the picture. Whilst it is good at what it does, Taken doesn’t vary from the blueprint of the one-man army actioner and is remarkable mainly for Liam Neeson taking the starring role.
The Transporter films, also starring Jason Statham, follow the formula too, with smatterings of decent fight sequences, car chases and the odd explosion filling out the most basic excuses for plots. On the whole they perform their jobs well, taking the time and effort to produce quality set-pieces that you would expect from an action film, but again they don’t try and do any more than this.

It’s not that Crank 2 doesn’t know its limitations – it is keenly aware of its status as an action movie and the stereotypes and genre trappings that come with the territory. Whilst accepting that it is only meant to go from A to B, it decides that there’s no reason that it can’t do that the long way round, by launching into orbit before landing smack back down to earth in a pink monster truck.
Similar to the first film, Crank 2 is cram-packed full of stylistic bells and whistles, including 8-bit video game graphics, 80s style talk show interludes (in the vein of Trisha), split-screen, animated still shots, slo-mo and fast-mo and an Ultraman/Godzilla style tokusatsu fight.
Not without its faults (worst of which is the casting decision for the young Chev – surely they could have dubbed a better voice in later?) Crank 2 gets by due to sheer force of will coupled with an absolute barrage of ideas – whilst borrowing Miike’s method of taking something pedestrian and coating it in bat-shit craziness, it also uses his working method of putting out so many ideas that for every dud there are two gems.
Not only did I want to carry on with Chev as the film ended, I’d quite happily see it again soon as it’s the kind of disposable but highly entertaining film that deserves repeat viewings.
It would be a little premature to hail 2009 as the year of the Stat, what with the release of Stallone’s action-fan wet dream, The Expendables, next year, but I have the feeling that it will be hard to match the inventiveness of the Crank films in a production packed with so much muscle I can’t even think of an adequate jokey comment.
Even if he is going to be called Lee Christmas.

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