Like high-concept action classics 'Speed,' 'Die Hard' and 'Run Lola Run,' the plot of 'Crank' can pretty much be summed up in a single sentence. The hook of 'Crank' is a grabber: our protagonist must keep moving at a pace that would kill a lesser man, because if his body slows down, he'll die. Sublime in its pop culture simplicity, 'Crank' is 'Speed' cubed, only in this case Keanu Reeves is the bus. And yes, the film's title has more than just the obvious meaning.
Jason Statham stars as Chev, a West Coast professional assassin working for the usual type of awful bad guys who would kill your grandmother for lunch money. Of course, Chev is one of those "nice guy" assassins who really just wants to settle down with his unknowing girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart), and is planning to go clean after "one last hit." Too bad Chev has been injected by his arch-rival Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) with a poison called "The Beijing Cocktail" -- which will kill him if his heart rate drops too low. With little time to stay alive, Chev enlists the aid of his friends Kaylo (Efren Ramirez) and Doc Miles (country superstar Dwight Yoakam, looking like Clint Howard) to help keep his heart pumping while he sets out to protect Eve from harm and find out who betrayed him.
'Crank' is a non-stop, 87-minute action sequence. I don't think I've ever seen a film maintain such a steady pace of action since the last hour of 'ALIENS.' The conceit is, of course, genius, because not only are we never bored, but the film doesn't slow down long enough for us to notice any flaws. The action is so absurd -- only 'The Blues Brothers' rivals 'Crank' in the total number of cop cars destroyed -- that you can't help to take it as a form of satire. Really, watching Statham smirk his way through the hilarious scene where Chev wedges his car into a moving escalator at a crowded L.A. shopping mall, then does a tap-dance up and over it, before leading yet another chase through the city streets can do nothing but leave a silly grin on your face. It's all action, with no dour seriousness and not a drop of high-brow pretension.
Needless to say, 'Crank' really isn't about anything. It's slick, but soulless. However, everyone seems to be onboard making the same movie, so it all comes together. The filmmaking team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (who co-directed and co-wrote the screenplay) so overdo the visual gimmicks -- split-screens, jump-cut editing, animating shots and sequences with digital tricks -- that style becomes substance. The actors, too, seem to realize they are playing riffs on movie caricatures, not actual characters. Statham almost seems to be parodying his own tough-guy persona from the 'Transporter' flicks and 'Cellular.' Smart meanwhile, is wise to give her thankless girlfriend role a bit of dreamy melancholia, without ever getting in the way of what is clearly a total boys-with-toys show. I also liked the oily Cantillo, who seems to be channeling all those stereotypical '80s-era Hispanic bad guys from the "Miami Vice" TV series, flailing his arms about and going bug-eyed to the point of almost falling over into the abyss of scene-chewing.
Admittedly, I have not thought about 'Crank' one iota after seeing it. But it was all I could think about during its 87 minutes.
'Crank' was shot entirely on 1080p/24fps HD digital cameras, which makes it a natural for high-def release. Lionsgate doesn't disappoint with this 1080p/MPEG-2 encode, which looks terrific.
The actual look of the film is all over the place. At least half of the film is overly stylized in some way -- contrast is overexposed and underexposed; color depth pushed and pulled, frames are dropped left and right, while other shorts literally distort themselves as if filtered through a funhouse mirror. Meanwhile, other parts of the film are comprised of seemingly untouched material that looks razor-sharp, with that clarity you get from pure HD video on cable networks like The Discovery Channel.
Despite all this, the presentation retains a weird consistency in its very inconsistency -- it only takes to a few minutes to get used to the approach and just go with it. Colors are never overdone, so the transfer retains a pleasing, natural, highly-detailed look throughout. My only real caveat is some slight but noticeable edge enhancement. Thin halos are present throughout, and there is more stair-stepping than I'm used to seeing in high-def. For example, in the opening scene there is a moving POV shot across a carpet with a hard-edge pattern, where jagged edges are clearly visible. This is the only drawback to a transfer that otherwise would have earned a five-star rating.
According to the back of the box, Lionsgate has cooked up two mixes for 'Crank' on Blu-ray -- a Dolby Digital Surround EX 5.1 and an uncompressed PCM 6.1 surround (although interestingly enough, the readout on my PlayStation 3 actually indicates PCM 7.1, not 6.1). Anyone who enjoys loud surrounds won't be disappointed here.
Complete 360-degree engagement is consistent and immersive. Directional pans in the rears are excellent, with a very clean and transparent movement, no doubt thanks to the extra encoded surround channel (or of the matrixed variety, if you're listening to the EX mix). The soundtrack can be incredibly visceral, with deep enough low bass that it rivals any of the best PCM tracks I've heard on Blu-ray. At high volume, gunshots and car hits sound like bombs -- it's pretty killer. Despite such heavy artillery, dialogue holds its own, and much to my astonishment I never once reached for my volume control. The only irritant? I personally could have done without the lame, Limp Bizkit-esque Nu-Metal. A genuinely percussive, driving score would sufficed just fine, thank you. Nonetheless, all props to Lionsgate for delivering this five-star set of tracks.
(Note: There is also an extra audio track allowing you to watch "The Family Friendly Version" of 'Crank.' This dubbed version features all of the nasty words replaced. Though a little goes a long way, it's pretty hilarious stuff.)
The standard-def DVD release of 'Crank' that hit stores simultaneously with the Blu-ray was relatively devoid of extras, including just a picture-in-picture video commentary and a music video. While Lionsgate carried over the commentary and pumped it up for HD (which is why we've moved it into HD bonus content section below), they did drop the music video. However, given the good amount of content exclusive to this Blu-ray release, there is no reason to complain...
'Crank' is a fun, crazy movie that never moves at a pace slower than lightning. Sure, it may be vapid, but it's wholly entertaining and never boring. This Blu-ray release is first-rate, with a great direct digital-to-digital transfer, ace soundtrack and a load of extras. There is even a second complete version of the film encoded on the disc with a picture-in-picture video commentary with the filmmakers and other branching content. If you want to really show off your Blu-ray rig, definitely inject a little 'Crank' into your system.