The original Crank was an unexpected joy for action-movie fans. It starred Jason Statham in a DOA-style plot about hitman Chev Chelios, who was dosed with a Chinese poison and had to find the people who did it to him before it was too late. What made Crank great (and if you can’t grant that premise, then you should leave right now) was how sleazy and shameless and depraved it was. The movie was utterly crazy, and would do absolutely anything in search of laughs or a good action sequence. Plausibility and good taste be damned. The new sequel, Crank: High Voltage is, if possible, even more insane than the first film.
Chev died at the end of Crank, fell thousands of feet from a helicopter, so a sequel might seem unlikely, but that would be seriously underestimating the filmmakers’ disdain for reality. High Voltage, also written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, opens right where the first one left off, with Statham bouncing on the pavement, but he is literally scooped off the ground by a group of Chinese gangsters and carted off. They want to farm Chev’s organs, and give his improbably sturdy heart to their elderly leader (David Carradine, whose performance here officially makes Kung Fu only the second most offensive thing to Asians that he’s ever done).
When Chev wakes up, he’s been outfitted with an artificial heart, but that doesn’t keep him from killing his way out of the gangsters’ lair. In the first film, Statham had to keep his adrenaline levels raised, lest the poison do him in. Here, though, he has to keep his artificial heart charged up via any means necessary -- jumper cables, tasers, car cigarette lighters and friction from skin-on-skin contact.
For some of that friction, Chev and his girlfriend, Eve (Amy Smart) end up having sex in the middle of a racetrack in front of thousands of people while horses run all around them.
From there it’s off to the races, with Chev constantly on the run, chasing down the gangsters who have his heart while dealing with multiple criminal organizations, the cops and striking porn stars and slaughtering baddies by the boatload. Chev gets some help from various places, including a gay biker gang, strippers with guns and Efren Ramirez (Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite), who’s seeking revenge for the death of his identical twin brother from the first film.
The whole point of the movie is Statham trying to keep himself from dying, but the filmmakers have really given up any pretense that Chev is a mere human. He seems to be more indestructible than a cockroach. He’s like the Cockney gangster version of a slasher-movie villain, as hard to kill and as likely to kill everyone around him.
This rejection of reality frees the filmmakers up to do just about anything they can think of, and their imaginations are huge. There’s a loony Godzilla homage, featuring people in rubber masks fighting amid cardboard models. There are supposedly dead characters from the first film brought back, only so they can be killed again. There is a shotgun stuck up a guy’s butt (don’t worry; it’s lubed by crude oil). You can practically hear Neveldine and Taylor giggling behind the scenes at some of the stuff they get away with here.
Everyone involved is in on the joke and having a good time. Smart runs around with duct tape over her nipples for half of the movie. Dwight Yoakam is very funny as Doc Miles, the doctor who is “reasonably sure” he can put back in Chev’s heart if he can find it. Bai Ling’s inherent skeeziness is finally put to perfect use. She plays a crack whore, with amusingly broken English except for her perfect use of curse words, who is inadvertently saved by Chev and then follows him around like a horny, diseased puppy. And Corey Haim even shows up for a cameo, sporting what I hope isn’t his real haircut.
Statham himself basically just gives a variation on the same performance he usually gives, albeit with a bit more snarling rage. I think he’s a better actor than he’s given credit for, but at this point, Statham is someone who attracts audiences more with sheer awesomeness than with any acting ability. He’s never boring, and he almost, but not quite, manages to redeem crapburgers like War and Death Race. And Statham makes the perfect straight man for this movie’s grotesquerie, charging through the insanity without batting an eye.
Of course, some of the movie’s jokes fall flat, and the movie occasionally goes too far, but that comes with the territory. If Neveldine and Taylor could tell where the boundaries of good taste were, then this would be a different movie entirely. This film is so far over the line that it can’t even see the line any more.
Lots of people will reject the movie for being nonsensical and nihilistic, but some of us find joy in those qualities. The film moves in uncharted territory for action-comedies, but the directors are up to the challenges they gave themselves. A real nut-punch of a movie, Crank: High Voltage aims for heights all its own, and truly sets the bar for adrenalized mayhem.
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