Director: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, and David Carradine
Runtime: 85 min.
by Brian Eggert
Original Release Date:
Splat! That’s how Crank ends, with Jason Statham’s annoyingly-named hitman Chev Chelios falling to his death from a helicopter onto the pavement, after a progression of nonsensical adventures that began with him being poisoned and followed his subsequent race to stay alive. That should’ve ended his story, except the film was something of a minor hit, so writing and directing team Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor concocted an even more outlandish series of events to revive Chelios and oblige the sequel Crank: High Voltage.
Here’s a movie whose every frame looks and feels injected with uppers galore, like the cast, crew, and even equipment used was high on methamphetamines during shooting. The camera shakes as if operated by a strung-out junkie, the choppy editing cut by a twitchy crackhead, and the script written by speed hounds just muddling through until their next fix. Why bother with a story when there are outlandish stunts laced with gratuitous violence and nudity to purvey? These movies aren’t interested in telling stories—they’re interested in temporary thrills contingent on shock value.
Scraped off the street via snow shovel by Chinese organ harvesters, Chelios’ poisoned heart is chopped out of his body and replaced with a temporary electronic one. A few dead medics and a phone call to Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam) later, and Chelios finds he must repeatedly electrocute himself to recharge his faux heart, otherwise he’s dead. This setup leads to an excess of ludicrous stunts where Chelios must endure the impossible to survive. He attaches jumper cables to his tongue and nipple, tasers himself, grabs power lines, straps on a dog’s electric shock collar, rubs up against old ladies to create a static charge, and once again has sex in public with his trashy now-stripper girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart), this time in a sex scene bordering on soft-core porn. Which, of course, the movie acknowledges was graphic just to be in-your-face. Oh, and in-between these literally shocking displays, there's some silly plot where Chelios chases bad guys.
The entire self-referential ordeal takes the form of a videogame, which the filmmakers are happy to acknowledge in the shoddy arcade-like opening credits. There’s some hilarity involved with the film’s lax attitude toward itself. Chelios’ charges are like the equivalent of Mario downing a mushroom; he seems to grow from his electric buzz, raising his arms in the air as if to say, “I have the power!” There are some curious cameo appearances by David Carradine and Corey Haim, better viewed as oddity-within-oddity than necessary to the story. And particularly enjoyable was the sequence where Chelios and an enemy goon seemingly grow 50-feet tall to do battle as pseudo-Godzilla types, crashing into cheap model sets and flying by slow-moving stunt wires into one another; meanwhile tiny clay onlookers point in awe from below. These moments make this sequel slightly more enjoyable, and even more of a comedy than its predecessor.
What appeals most about this flick is the cartoonish violence, which sometimes plays by unwritten rules but takes place in a skewed version of real-life. That Neveldine and Taylor never decide which reality, cartoon or the real world, their story inhabits, their indecision leaves the product inconsistent at best. And yet, the basic scenario behind the movie has limitless potential, enough to where I can understand why someone might find it exciting in concept alone. But the filmmakers are too concerned with incorporating action and sleaze to bother themselves with consistency; they’d rather flash blood and sex scenes and ultra-violence in our face just because they can. And that’s the entire point, to be as tastless as possible.
This is filmic masturbation folks, titillating your senses with every graphic exposition possible. The blood is pointless and abundant, as are the topless women. If that’s your thing, then there’s no debating the terribleness of this movie with you. Action fans who liked the first will inevitably enjoy the result, which is why critics weren’t asked to prescreen and review Crank: High Voltage—because there’s already an ingrained audience whose fandom for Jason Statham and the first movie will fill enough seats to more than recoup the production’s meager budget (reportedly $12.5 million). For the rest of us waiting for a smart action movie to come along, well, keep waiting.