The Fast and Furiously Lampooned

Category: Gamer News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: August 29, 2009 | Publication: New York Times | Author: JONAH WEINER
Publication/Article Link:New York Times

THE filmmaker Mark Neveldine sat in a booth at Rudy’s Bar & Grill, a dimly lit dive in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, working on a pitcher of beer. Looking the part of a happy-hour regular on this late July afternoon, he wore a mustache and a trucker cap. “My favorite bars are like my favorite movies,” he said, nodding toward the grizzled clientele and a sign on the wall offering Pork Slap Ale at $3 a can. “They don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Mr. Neveldine explained that for him and his creative partner, Brian Taylor, dive bars make excellent writer’s rooms. “Our movies come to life in places like this,” he said. “We’ll sit down, get hammered and talk about a plot. The next day we write it all down, come up with a treatment and we’re off.”

For those familiar with Mr. Neveldine and Mr. Taylor’s work — the 2006 action whirlwind “Crank” and this year’s sequel, “Crank: High Voltage” — it should be no surprise that their ideas spring from a marriage of seedy locales, cheap intoxicants and careening spontaneity. The “Crank” movies concern Chev Chelios, a Los Angeles hit man who must keep his body crackling with stimulants to survive: he guzzles shoplifted energy drinks, clamps jumper cables to his tongue and wrestles an adversary while in free fall from a helicopter. “Keep moving or die,” Mr. Neveldine said, summarizing both Chev’s mandate and the filmmakers’ guiding principle.

To a cadre of obsessive fans Mr. Neveldine and Mr. Taylor are heroes. “Their fans have seen it all; they’re numbed,” said Jeremy Smith, an editor at the entertainment Web site Ain’t It Cool News (aintitcool.com). “They see Neveldine and Taylor as potential genre saviors, because they’re making the most propulsive and the most preposterous action movies today.”

Preposterous is a start. Mr. Neveldine and Mr. Taylor push their films to such hyperkinetic heights that they can take on a hallucinatory, almost avant-garde quality: frat house meets art house. The filmmakers, who share writing and directing duties, employ scant computer effects in their action sequences and often wade into danger themselves.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said the actor Gerard Butler, who stars in the pair’s third feature, “Gamer” (opening Friday). “The first day, we set off a massive explosion between two buildings. I’m running down this alleyway, flames are coming all around me, and I look back and see Mark on Rollerblades, with a camera, covered in all kinds of pads. He was shooting right in the middle of the explosion.”

For all the fanboy adulation Mr. Neveldine and Mr. Taylor inspire, they have their detractors too, those who dismiss their films as juvenile fantasies rife with gross-out violence, casual misogyny and base ethnic stereotypes. With “Gamer,” though, the directors aim to prove that both camps have been seeing only part of the picture.

“We want to make movies that are super entertaining on the surface, but that leave you with something,” said Mr. Taylor, 42, on the phone from his native Los Angeles. Steeped in ’70s and ’80s sci-fi and cyberpunk references, “Gamer” envisions a near future in which reality television and video games have merged, and players operating home consoles can control the actions of real people: death row inmates in a gory tournament called Slayers, and cash-strapped volunteers in a lurid Sims-like game called Society.

“Gamer” emphasizes something previously submerged about Mr. Neveldine and Mr. Taylor: They’re deeply skeptical of the amoral trash culture they seemingly embody. “The more we thought about reality shows and ultimate fighting and gamers playing 24/7, we began to see the world spiraling into a black hole,” Mr. Neveldine, 34, explained. “We decided to make ‘Gamer’ as a warning.” (He and his wife, the actress Alison Lohman, live on a farm in upstate New York, with chickens, crops and no television, a couple of hours from Watertown, where he grew up.)

In case this sounded like someone taking himself too seriously, he added, “But we had to make it a blast too.” This means plentiful head wounds, a thundering snowplow chase and an elaborate dance routine set to Sammy Davis Jr.’s recording of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

The two took indirect paths to moviemaking. After Mr. Neveldine’s dreams of playing professional hockey faded, he wrote, directed and acted in off-Broadway plays, eventually moving to Hollywood. Mr. Taylor grew up a self-described “film geek,” enamored with Hitchcock and Fellini, but spent his 20s playing guitar with several punk bands before finally enrolling in “a 10-month hands-on film course.” The two met in 2001 when Mr. Taylor, working as director of photography on a small independent film, hired Mr. Neveldine as a cameraman.

Tom Rosenberg, the founder and chairman of Lakeshore Entertainment, which produced the inexpensive “Crank” movies and “Gamer,” said he overcame doubts about working with two unknowns, “because their talent and intellect carried the day.” He also allowed that “they can wring a lot out of a few dollars.”

Mr. Taylor described “Gamer” as a departure from “Crank”: “There’s narrative structure. The characters are less cartoonish.” But one can connect the new film thematically with its predecessors. Both Chev Chelios and Gerard Butler’s Kable are men who struggle against a constraining, ultimately castrating, force. “Deep down every man is afraid he’s going to become the next John Bobbitt,” Mr. Neveldine said, adding that he and Mr. Taylor have been working on a screenplay called “Castration Village.”

But he stressed that their films aren’t odes to uncut masculinity. “With ‘Crank’ we said, ‘Let’s make a parody of an action film that still works as an action film,’ ” Mr. Neveldine explained. This parody has a sharpened edge. The “Crank” movies can be so abrasive, so sexist, and traffic in such threadbare racial caricatures that the self-critiques can go over moviegoers’ heads. “If people hate us, they hate us,” Mr. Taylor said. “But who knows? Maybe we’ll become the Jerry Lewis of action movies. In 20 years the French might rediscover ‘Crank’ 2 and say, ‘Hey, these guys were brilliant!’ ”