I was pretty inebriated when I watched the end of Pathology (2008) last night. I had not been for the first two-thirds of the film, which I had quite enjoyed, but around the time that Alyssa Milano was moving in with the main character, I was fighting to hold on to coherency. It may not all have been my fault, it seemed to get a bit rushed and drift even further away from believability, but even so, when the film reached the final scene, and the credits began to roll, I was distressed and confused. Did that ending really just happen? It was so sudden and wildly sadistic. Yet, it was also kind of immature. I wasn’t sure if it was just the booze causing me to become hazy and susceptible, but I found myself extremely disturbed. The slick, graphic horror film had done its job, the story had clearly gotten under my skin. I determined the blame was owed to the writer-producers, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
I assume everyone has either seen or heard a lot about Crank at this point. I had not seen it until I sobered up from my Pathology viewing, still confused and fixated. After deciding Neveldine and Taylor were responsible for the film having burrowed so deep into my messy brain-thoughts, and, oh yeah, they are those two guys who wrote/directed/shot Crank. So I had a Crank-athon and watch both Crank and its sequel back to back.
Crank (2006) was their breakout film, which revolutionized the action movie; it birthed this low-budget hyper-crazy action thing that Neveldine/Taylor do best. The best comparison I can come up with is Guy Ritchie meets Evil Dead II. It’s shot on consumer-grade video, like all their Neveldine/Taylor branded films. Their camera is mounted on homemade rigs, and it bounces around Chev Chelios as if on otherworldly springs.
The pair has a strange talent of making the kind of movies that young filmmakers (myself included, I’m talking from experience here) fantasize about making when they are
first starting in film school. Then after you’ve dwelled on those ideas for a couple years, and your mind has opened up to greater cinema, you look back on those concepts (especially if you actually wrote the screenplay, then you go back and reread it), and say “What the hell was I thinking?”
Neveldine and Taylor make those movies, but the part that is baffling is that they make them good. Good in a way that’s almost irresistible. Yet film students aren’t dropping to their knees and worshiping them the way they do Tarantino. Maybe this is because of the schlockiness and slightly immature tone their films carry. Or maybe it’s just because I graduated from film school over three years ago, and the students hadn’t caught onto it yet. So those high school film geeks were seeing those films in theaters as teens, and are now graduating into college to have Neveldine/Taylor circle jerks in their dorm rooms. This is at least what I hope is happening.
I hope that somewhere in the USA, in a very small room, 18 year old men are jerking eachother off to vividly stylized action movies.
While Crank is a kind of masterpiece, Crank: High Voltage (2009) feels a bit more like a Saints Row video game than the slick, bizarro action movie that its predecessor was. But I wind up with the same problem I’ve run into with every single Neveldine/Taylor film I’ve seen thus far. It’s fucking great.
2009 was Neveldine/Taylor’s best year, as they not only made a sequel to the film that put them on the map, they also made my personal favorite of their 5 features: Gamer. Gamer is a weird mash-up of all the cool sci fi (you/I)’ve been reading, it’s Philip K. Dick and Snow Crash, and every badass futuristic video game, with the guy from 300 (Gerard Butler) as some sort of virtual gladiator and the rapper Ludacris as a cyber-activist and serial killer Dexter (Michael C. Hall) as a megalomaniac techno-tycoon trying to take over the world via a scary new dimension of video games. Living humans, either for pay or by force, become avatars for players at home to control via their high-tech computer consoles. Butler’s character is an inmate on death row, given the chance to earn his freedom as an avatar in Slayers, a Counter-Strike sort of game. No surprises there, genre film has taught us that the government will totally set the death-row inmate who can kill the most of his peers free in the future! And I want to sneer and scoff at all this, but the problem is, it’s fucking great.
Gamer seems to be satirizing everything from UFC to Xbox Live frat culture, while dropping references from Videodrome to 1984, but is this whole mash-up smart or just really pretty and entertaining?
I think that’s a lot of the reason I like this movie so much. It doesn’t have to be either; I’m engaged and I’m impressed, and I’m taking away all these things from it, blatant, intentional or maybe entirely unintentional. And that’s why I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making and watching movies like this. In fact, I wish more action movies had the audacity to be as obnoxious as Gamer is. Sure, I like looking at attractive people and explosions, but that little extra complexity and cleverness that Neveldine/Taylor bring to their slick, sexy, colorful action flicks allows me to feel like an intelligent audience member by choice. Is it intelligent? I don’t care. I am. And do you need to be smart to have a great time watching it? Not in the least. Honestly,it might even help you not to be, really smart people can be stuck up about fun. But I like fun, and it works for me, as an intellectual viewer.
Anyhow, things have taken a disappointing turn for Neveldine and Taylor since Gamer. They were attached to Jonah Hex and that fell apart, and then they made Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I watched their Ghost Rider film a few nights ago to satisfy my fixation with the filmmakers, but I cannot say I found it very pleasing. Although it looked perfectly like their other features, it was just not their movie. Not only is Ghost Rider not a character of the Neveldine/Taylor universe, the story was a disaster. The script was not penned by the directors, but credited to David S. Goyer (a Full Moon alumni who I can rant about for hours, best known for writing for Nolan’s Batman films), a writer from the show House, and some other dude. I have to assume it was one of those scripts that gets passed around to dozens of Hollywood screenwriters before the studio settles on some Frankenstein style screenplay amalgamated of bits and pieces of all the prior drafts.Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is born, and it’s a mess. I can’t tell if it’s a hard action film, a horror movie, or a kid’s story.
Right now the story is that Brian Taylor is independently working on a Twisted Metal film, and I don’t know what Mark Neveldine is doing. I’m very frightened that the heyday of Neveldine/Taylor is over, and they’ll be working on comic book movies, sequels, and other inane adaptations till they retire from Hollywood. I have no basis for this fear other than my overwhelming negativity regarding movie studios dealing with exceptional and unique genre film.
I will just have to keep my fingers crossed. And watch this short video of the two discussing the possibility of a Crank 3 from an interview they did in ‘09. I mean, last year Jason Statham, Chev Chelios himself, even said he was up for it. I hope they call it “Crank 3: Even Crankier”.