DISSECTING MARK NEVELINE & BRIAN TAYLOR!
Do filmmaking duos come more insane than Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor? Seriously, who the hell let these feral madmen into Hollywood in the first place? Not that we're complaining, as you'll see to the contrary, we're quite grateful there's a place in mainstream moviemaking for these two crazy mofos. But let's be real, these dudes are off their rocker insane. And their flicks reflect it. Starting with CRANK in 2006, Neveldine and Taylor (N&T here on out) have spent a good decade toiling away with manic and maniacal genre joints like CRANK, CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE, GAMER, GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, and now, though apart, THE VATICAN TAPES, which opens in theaters this Friday. And since we're total fans of the unkempt brio and bravado these dudes bring every time out, we thought why not devote entire day to reflect on said decade. After-all, N&T have been sort of MIA since 2011.
All that changes this instant though friends. Proceed with caution as we unsheathe the big-blade and Dissect the work of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor!
Color us monogamous, but we're pretty faithful to Neveldine and Taylor's first directorial foray CRANK. And I suppose, by proxy, it's even sillier ante-upping sequel, CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE. Not great films, but for a continued break-neck action joint, damn good fun! Hell, anytime ol' Jason Statham shows up ready to crack skulls and break backs, we're in for a damn good time. Such is definitely the case with CRANK, which more or less functions like a meth-riddled lovechild of LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL and SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL. F*cking bonkers!
As the title connotes, CRANK is infused with both a deafening volubility...blasted way past volume 10 in almost every imaginable way...as well as a palpitating drug effect, a la amphetamine. Clever how the film "cranks" every aspect to the highest level to create a real chemical reaction: adrenaline overload! Of course, seeing Statham waylay every sucker that steps his way is bona fide blast, and a sight that never seems to get old. Not with all the exorbitant set-pieces and off-the-wall fight sequences that got taken to even further absurd heights in HIGH VOLTAGE. Remember, that plotline found Chev Chelios with a ticking ticker...a running clock on his dying heart...which made the stakes higher and the combat scenes all the more impressive. Hell, my man was shooting high-wattage into his tongue via car jumper cables. Insanity!
Talk about a squandered opportunity. You see, when Nic Cage rolls around in the bat-shit and becomes unabashed guano-man...you know...WICKER MAN Nic Cage, well there's nothing better. All is right in the world when THAT Nic Cage shows up onscreen. So, when it was announced that Cage would fall under the direction of N&T, coming off of GAMER no less, the immediate reaction was..."oh hell yea!" How could such an over the top pairing ever fail to live up to the hype. Ugh, then GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE was released in 2011.
Ultimately watered down to fit a mass-appeal PG-13 audience, everything that worked so well in CRANK and GAMER fell woefully short in GHOST RIDER. Hamstrung, undercut, neutered...pick an adjective of similarity. In the end, GHOST RIDER failed to deliver that high-octane, balls-to-the-wall energy we've come to know and love from a N&T joint. And Nic Cage was dialed down to a thorazine patient, far more sedated than we'd expect from doing a flick with the boys who gave us HIGH VOLTAGE. Really. Neveldine and Taylor are at their best when the action and energy is through the roof, when we're given zero time to stop and breathe. Unfortunately, GHOST RIDER towed the line right down the middle, stuck on volume 5, never too loud and never too intense to make a truly lasting mark. I get that it was a big studio and all, but perhaps if they pulled the reins off of Cage and let him do his thing, old Johnny Blaze would have left us smoking something a little more potent.
No doubt about it, the one thing Neveldine and Taylor are and should be remembered for is their unapologetically graphic sexuality and violence in their movies. Their early work in particular, which really challenges the notion of censorship and how much nastiness and brutality can be depicted onscreen. The CRANK movies are perfect examples, almost cartoonish in how over the top the sex and violence becomes at times. I personally love how unremitting their material is, and how they seem to be equal opportunity offenders with their stories. No PC bullshit here, no pandering (until GHOST RIDER), no shits given about the exploitative nature of their flicks. Which is why, after seeing VATICAN TAPES, I have to posit that the most potent trademark of N&T is their own partnership. Remaining together. As it is now, the two are operating on separate accords, yet clearly work better in tandem than alone. Let's go boys, round up Statham for a CRANK 3 already!
In a rare crossover feat, I truly believe the most bizarre and original Neveldine/Taylor joint is also their most unheralded. Perhaps that's the result of a $50 million movie only netting a paltry $11 million on opening weekend. That's right folks, I'm talking about the absolute unbridled mania of GAMER, starring a top-form Gerard Butler back in 2009. What a wildly energetic, hyper-kinetic visual assault! If you've never seen, we strongly urge you do so ASAP, as the flick focuses on a futuristic mind-control videogame, designed in a way that resembles a first-person DOOM or QUAKE aesthetic, where our antihero convict Kable (Butler) must survive and even thrive in an indefatigable gauntlet of 30 harrowing gaming sessions. And the real kicker? He's beholden to Simon, a teenage gamer controlling Kable's every move.
What strikes me most about GAMER, aside from the rather original conceit penned by N&T, is how immersive the visual word that they created continues to be throughout. It's like a demented live-action WRECK IT RALPH, albeit without the sappy heartstrings being tugged at. It has a pumped up pace and nonstop action that, much like a real videogame, pulverizes your senses in a way that both geeks you up and wears you down at once. Really, it's an exhaustive experience, but one that viscerally plunges you headlong into realistic virtual videogame world. And does so at 100 MPH!
While it's difficult to say what his other half Mr. Taylor is up to these days, we can say with absolute certainty that Mark Neveldine anxiously awaits the release of his solo directorial debut, THE VATICAN TAPES, which hits theaters this Friday (July 24th). Let's take a closer look!
Scripted by Christopher Borelli from a story he hatched along with Chris Morgan:
THE VATICAN TAPES follows the ultimate battle between good and evil - God versus Satan. Angela Holmes is an ordinary 27-year-old until she begins to have a devastating effect on anyone close, causing serious injury and death. Holmes is examined and possession is suspected, but when the Vatican is called upon to exorcise the demon, the possession proves to be an ancient satanic force more powerful than ever imagined. It's all up to Father Lozano to wage war for more than just Angela's soul, but for the world as we know it.
Stay posted for our review of VATICAN TAPES later this week. In the meantime, it's only right we highlight a pair of pics Neveldine has lent his producorial blessing towards. Both thrillers, the first called URGE - starring Pierce Brosnan and Ashley Greene - and the second called OFFICER DOWNE - starring the great Kim Coates in the supernatural title role. Scope it...
Written and directed by Aaron Kaufman, URGE follows:
A group of friends on holiday on an island experiment a new designer drug that makes them lose their ability to control their urges.
Good enough for a look, no? As for OFFICER DOWNE, it's:
Based on the Man of Action/Image Comics original graphic novel created by Joe Casey and Chris Burnham, written by Joe Casey, about a police officer who can't be stopped by death so he returns to the streets time and time again to fight crime.
I'm not sure why they parted ways the past few years, but I think Neveldine and Taylor are better served when working together. Time will be the ultimate judge of that assertion, but having seen THE VATICAN TAPES, I sort of long for the overtly manic energy and fun times that CRANK and GAMER offered us last decade. They're the first mainstream filmmakers in a long time to imbue their flicks with an uncontrollable energy and unabashed B-movie sensibility, yet doing so in a way that never compromises the entertainment. In fact, it's the absurdity and over the top antics that makes the flicks so entertaining. I just wish, if they don't reunite and reform the bond, that, as solo artists, they continue to push the envelope and not kowtow to risk-averse studio notes and test-audience whims. Do you Mark, do you Brian...we'll all be better off. Promise!