By Brian Orndorf
Me? I loathed 2006’s “Crank,” finding the orgy of violence, film school reject camerawork, and hyperactive editing obscenely obnoxious. I didn’t buy into the feature as pop art or as a supposed anti-establishment bonbon to savor with pierced-brow relish. Instead, I rejected its every move with increasing disgust. 2 Â½ years later, and now there’s a sequel. A sequel! Yes, “Crank” turned a tiny profit and built a rabid cult following in the intervening years, and the faithful are being rewarded with another swirling round of brain-melting inanity, coated in tacky “style” and 8-bit sophistication. Yes, it’s supposed to be dreadful, but it turns out that “Crank: High Voltage” is genuinely insufferable.
Seconds after his helicopter free fall results in a belly flop on concrete, Chev (Jason Statham) is barely alive, scooped up by Asian gangsters who want to steal his heart. Replacing his ticker with a plastic, battery powered machine, Chev can only stay alive for a few moments at a time before he needs a charge. Escaping the clutches of evil and out to retrieve his thumper, Chev hits the dangerous streets of Los Angeles, crossing paths with many old faces (including Amy Smart, Efren Ramirez, and Dwight Yokam) as he hunts down Poon Dong (David Carradine), the current owner of his resilient heart.
I suppose my trouble with the “Crank” films lies with directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who have this master plan of pandemonium for the series that I’m unable to process properly. Looking to make a live-action video game mixed with broad cartoon motions and hardcore action film conventions, the directors go straight to gonzo overkill in the name of fun. I just don’t see this alleged merriment.
There’s no satiric aim here, no comedic sleight of hand to help digest the noise these two gentlemen are infatuated with. Neveldine and Taylor are here to simply push buttons, scripting an adventure that eats taboo by the pound and expects the audience to beg for more. The guys mistake chaos for cleverness, using hyper-editing standards and clichÃ©d skate-video cinematography to whip the nonsense into a stimulating whirlwind of provocative entertainment. I held some hope that “Crank: High Voltage” would go a little easier on the senses (been there, done that), but the filmmakers actually quest to surpass the original film, leading to unimaginable and frankly unprintable forays into slapstick comedy and deadly serious ultraviolence. Much like the first film, there’s more yawns than shocks with Neveldine and Taylor trying so furiously to be edgy.
Just how is anyone supposed to react to an anal violation performed with a shotgun, a scene where a Mexican gangster slowly cuts off his own nipples, or a moment where a stripper is shot in the chest, only to have the clear ooze of her breast implants pour out? Funny? Throw in weirdly mean-spirited Asian stereotypes (Carradine is in full buck teeth mode, while Chinese actress Bai Ling personally sets her homeland back about 50 years with her grotesquely exaggerated “Me love you long time” performance) and a fixation on genital mutilation, and “Crank: High Voltage” becomes depressing to watch. Not silly, depressing.
For flavor, the sequel offers a few weird cameos (Corey Haim, Geri Halliwell), lots of nudity, even more gunfire, a Godzilla-inspired battle between a towering Chev and his enemy (ya know, just because), and a final shot that literally extends a middle finger toward the paying audience. It’s a surreal pastiche of manufactured multiplex rebellion and frankly a predictable one, as the sequel is basically following in the same footsteps as the first picture, only with more emphasis on the sleaze.
The “Crank” pictures have their fans, and God bless â€˜em, they eat this malarkey up with a huge smile. Good for them. However, when I watch these movies, I can’t help but feel cheated. Surely something so gleefully disgusting shouldn’t have to work this hard to make an impression.