The movie that makes meth sound like a great idea
Cast: Jason Statham as Chev Chelios, Amy Smart as Eve Lydon, Efren Ramirez as Kaylo
Premise: A hitman’s day is mildly ruined when he’s dosed with a poison that will kill him unless he keeps his adrenaline pumping.
Do modern audiences need action films? Obviously we don’t need film in general, but films that endeavor to engage audiences in cathartic action have a big opponent: video games. Why watch a war movie or a heist film when you can play Call of Duty or Payday? It seems like some films have responded by making themselves more like video games; purposely making plots merely a framing device for visceral action (Shoot Em Up, Zombieland). One of the best examples of this is Crank.
The film begins with a POV shot of our hero waking to a TV telling him he’s just been poisoned. We know from the start that the film isn’t going to waste time getting started. The premise allows the film to start strong with it’s action; after waking up Chev immediately picks a fight with some bikers, drives his car through a shopping mall, and hunts down a member of his poisoner’s crew. While modern films overuse frenetic cutting and shaky cam, this is an example of it being used appropriately. The film looks as erratic as it’s hero needs to be (notably, shaky cam is only used in scenes viewed from Chev’s perspective). It helps that Statham’s performance is a lot more “Bruce Willis” than “Jet Li”; this film’s action is haphazard rather than refined with our hero using any weapon, car, or clothing that happens to be nearby.
As many have noted, this film’s tone seems to draw from the Grand Theft Auto series. Chev’s scenario leads him to commit several arbitrary crimes in order to stay alive, leading to scenes as ridiculous as robbing a hospital for its epinephrine. The story is similar to GTA3, with a mysterious protagonist surving attempted murder and seeking revenge, with a backstory revealed much later. It also has the irreverence of the series; there’s no consequences for crashing a motorcycle and flying several feet or killing multiple people in front of your girlfriend.
The film’s irreverence is its greatest strength and weakness. Its attempts at “macho” humor means that everyone besides the protagonist is a broad stereotype.
The women in this film have it the worst; they’re pretty much props. One scene has a bad guy getting a blowjob during a call about his brother’s death. This has no bearing on the scene. At the cartel boss’ pad, there are random women sitting in globes (?!) around the pool (one of whom gets shot for no reason). But that’s ok because they’re bad guys right? Well that would work if the film didn’t portray Eve -its female lead- as either an obstacle (Chev has to constantly lie to her about his situation) or as a boost to his health meter (he has sex with her twice for the sole purpose of keeping his adrenaline up).
In addition to the misogyny, you also get some queer-phobic subtext. In the first half of the film, Chev has a sidekick who – for no apparent reason – is established as a transvestite. This would actually be good for the film’s diversity, if the film didn’t treat him like utter shite. Despite putting himself at risk in order to save Chev’s life, Chev not only disrespects him (shoving him around, mocking his squeamishness), but doesn’t even seem to care when he’s killed (sorry for the spoiler) just to draw him out. AND THEN HE USES HIS CORPSE AS A HUMAN SHIELD. While some would claim that this isn’t explicit queerphobia, this also a film where the protagonist consistently calls his nemesis a “fag” and belittles his masculinity. Just sayin’. Personally, I don’t think that being audacious gives a work the right to be this culturally offensive. I’m not saying that queer or women jokes can’t be funny, it just has to be a little more well thought than “women getting fucked is funny” or “transvestites are funny”.
Despite two strong first acts, the third act is pretty standard. This is when things get “serious” and Chev has to think about Eve and his future and blah blah blah. Statham is great as Chev – being able to channel that John McClane-esque everyman badass – but the character isn’t exactly a hitman with a heart. We just wanted to see him do crazy shit around Cali; nobody really cares if he lives at the end. It doesn’t help that he wasn’t the nicest guy throughout the film (using his friend as a shield and all…).
Overall: This is a fun but woefully-insensitive action film. If you’re the type that can look past the “dudebro” sensibilities, you’ll have a great time.
My rating: Two syringes; this film’s favorite medical tool (seriously they show up a lot)
- Efren Ramirez also played Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite. Which sort of sounds like his character Kaylo. COINCIDENCE? Probably.
- Throughout the film, the bad guy carries a syringe of the “Chinese Shit” poison he gave Chev. I imagine an alternate ending was him accidentally sitting on it.