Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 at 3:17 pm
Crank 2: High Voltage Directed by Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Starring Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Clifton Collins Jr., Bai Ling, Efren Ramirez
Crank, the Red Bull and crystal meth-fueled 2006 action epic, became a minor classic of its time but failed to connect with moviegoers despite the presence of rising celluloid badass Jason Statham in the lead role of unstoppable contract killer Chev Chelios. It wasn’t until the movie hit DVD the next year that it began to find its audience. The sales must have been strong because they were more than enough for Crank‘s distributor Lionsgate to approach the movie’s writer/director team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor for a sequel. The problem is that the finale of Crank found Chelios dropped from a helicopter over Los Angeles and fought his nemesis to the bitter end. Then he became a street pancake. The end, or so we initially thought. Hey this is Hollywood baby, and in this land of cocaine wishes and Vicodin dreams anything’s possible, even surviving a plummet to the earth from 30,000 feet. And with that in mind, Neveldine/Taylor gives us Crank 2: High Voltage, as boldly over-the-top as a sequel can possibly be.
On our last episode of Crank Chelios was injected with a special Chinese poison by his enemy Verona and in order to keep from kicking the bucket before he could take his revenge Chev had to keep his heart pumping. After a day-long battle that spanned almost all of the City of Angels Chev finally exacted a bloody and satisfying vengeance upon his archnemesis, and then he died. Crank 2 picks up immediately where the original left off with a group of Chinese gangsters scooping the dead Chelios off the asphalt with a snow shovel and spiriting him away to a brothel/makeshift hospital where his powerful heart is surgically removed and placed in the hands of spastic Triad thug Johnny Vang (Art Hsu). In the place of his “strawberry tart” (Chev’s words) the surgeons place an artificial heart that runs on internal and external batteries. They also plot to harvest certain other body parts precious to our hero. Drawing the line at losing his dick Chev wakes up, kills his way out of Triad hands, and contacts his friend Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam) who explains to our intrepid anti-hero that he must keep the heart running with electricity or else he’ll die.
So begins another long and extremely violent day in the life of Chev Chelios as he reclaim his pumper from the chest of ancient Triad crime boss and all around ol’ horny bastard Poon Dong (played by that great Asian actor David Carradine-yes that was sarcasm-as a demented parody of Keye Luke’s Master from the Kung Fu television series) while encountering a crazed hooker (Bai Ling), the twin brother of his dead gay sidekick from the original (Efren Ramirez), a veritable United Nations of trigger-happy gangsters, a crime lord named El Huron with a devious agenda of his own (Clifton Collins, Jr.), and his old girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) who’s now working as a stripper and getting pawed constantly by a mulleted Corey Haim. Needless to say much sex, mindless violence, foul language, and other forms of politically incorrect behavior ensue, and it’s all glorious in a way that’s difficult to describe. Plus plenty of minor body parts keep getting hacked off, such as elbows and nipples (I wonder if Neveldine and Taylor watched the “Sirens” episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force before writing this movie). All the while the guy best known for playing Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation offers running commentary as a news anchorman who seems hard pressed to believe any of this crazy bullshit.
Make no mistake folks, Crank: High Voltage (or Crank 2: High Voltage depending on who you believe, the movie poster or the DVD cover) is grand crazy bullshit. It takes every single element that made the original Crank special and injects plenty of high quality cinematic super soldier serum along with hearty helpings of Troma flicks, blurry-eyed hours of playing Grand Theft Auto games, blood and shit-caked anarchic punk rock, and a massive stack of Hustler back issues. Seriously, you can practically see blood-spurting veins popping out of the celluloid and the film projector probably got an erection. As a result the sequel sacrifices some of the original’s charm at the expense of following the cardinal rule of Hollywood sequel-making: make everything bigger. But while bigger rarely means better Crank 2 has plenty of joyously crass thrills and logic-defying insanity to recommend it. It gives us a new kind of action hero in Jason Statham’s superhuman hitman Chev Chelios and a cast of colorful characters that could have come from a comic book written by Garth Ennis. Bai Ling’s spastic prostitute acts like a coked-up parody of a Japanese anime character, complete with overly dramatic pointing. The late David Carradine’s decrepit Triad crime lord Poon Dong may come off at times like a horrible Asian stereotype (Remember Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?) but for me it’s Carradine savoring at the opportunity to finally play the Master from Kung-Fu, only as an ol’ horny bastard. The circle is complete in a perverted yet amusing way.
There are plenty of fast-paced action sequences in Crank 2 accomplished through the magic of old school rough-and-tumble stuntwork, more bullet squibs than in the last five films of Sam Peckinpah, and the occasional use of CGI because this is a movie made in the 21st century and they wouldn’t have it any other way. The scenes themselves often hit a level of mind-boggling derangement, from a bloody strip-club shootout complete with exploding breast implants to a power station fist fight that suddenly and for no discernable reason transforms into a Japanese monster movie throwdown (with a cameo from Troma honcho Lloyd Kaufman) to an apocalyptic clusterfuck finale where almost every character in the movie converges at El Huron’s palatial mansion for a blood-and-thunder battle of absurd proportions that owes more than a nod to the ending of The Wild Bunch. There are many little twists scattered throughout the movie, every actor endures some form of physical abuse (Haim gets it bad, and it’s also quite embarassing), and the last shot before the end credits could almost be a not-so-subtle from the filmmakers to not just their critics but also their bloodthirsty audience. Are you not entertained? Who gives a fuck if you are?
The acting quality is solid for the most part. Statham powers through the story keeping his game grimace on and manages to generate a strong screen presence without the benefit of any standout acting moments. His character is likable in a weird way as are most of the characters in the Crank universe. Amy Smart keeps on truckin’ like a good soldier while wearing next to nothing during the movie, including some strategically-placed electrical tape, but still gives a good show as Chev’s loyal but eternally suffering girlfriend. As the ever reliable Doc Miles Dwight Yoakam leaves his cowboy hat at home and does and says things that if we lived in a perfect world would likely get him banned from the Country Music Awards for life and bless his heart and bald head for doing some. He gets a lot of funny dialogue and a hooker sidekick named Dark Chocolate (Julanne Chidi Hill) to banter with and use her ass as a bongo drum. Howard Stern would be proud. Efren Ramirez looks like he’s trying to leave the spector of Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite behind forever by playing his character Venus as a parody of the moody and muscular heroes from the films of Robert Rodriguez but he does a solid job and the full body Tourette’s is a nice touch.
In fact most of the characters in Crank 2 seem like they came from an alternate universe where everyone permanently lives out a popular cultural archetype, no matter how patently offensive they may be. A porn star strike in the midst of the mayhem provides cameos from real-life adult film stars Jenna Haze, Peter North, Lexington Steele, and Ron Jeremy. Plus there are special guest appearances from Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington, Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan, Danny Lohner of Nine Inch Nails, former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell (appearing in a flashback as Chev’s put-upon mum, proving that our intrepid hero has a bad habit of putting the women in his life through their paces), and the Dean of Mean himself, UFC mixed martial artist Keith Jardine. The soundtrack kicks ass with a propulsive and whistle-friendly score from Faith No More’s Mike Patton and a songtrack that guarantees you will never listen to “Heard It In a Love Song” by the Marshall Tucker Band or “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon the same way again. The ground-level guerilla cinematography by Brandon Trost gives even Crank 2’s quieter moments the visual kick of a Beastie Boys music video. Finally special mention must be given to the first-rate editing team of Marc Jakubowicz and Fernando Villena, the brave souls who were tasked with assembling a 96-minute feature film from around 300 hours of footage and did a damn fine job in the end.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s excellent DVD of Crank 2: High Voltage presents the feature in a terrific widescreen picture with a fine English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX audio track and English and Spanish subtitles. The single disc edition of the film contains no bonus features but the 2-disc edition has more than a few, and while they might not be volumnous they certainly are worthwhile.
Leading things off, directors Neveldine and Taylor provide a chatty and jokey audio commentary that tends to spend more time cracking wise and ripping apart their own film, but it’s worth at least one listen.
“Crank 2 Take 2” is a four-minute reel of goof-ups that made it into the movie, including blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from various crew members, cameras, and paparazzi, all pointed out to us home viewers through the magic of on-screen graphics. All in all a slight but pretty silly extra.
The meat of the extras comes in the form of “Tits Against the Glass: Making Crank 2“, a 51-minute documentary in two parts that takes a comprehensive behind-the scenes look at the film’s unorthodox production. There are plenty of interviews with the cast and crew, with a sizable chunk of the documentary given over to a semi-serious interview with the directors. You get a basic overview of the production and may even learn some interesting things along the way, but other than seeing how the film was shot using the latest in high-definition cameras and Bai Ling’s underrated gift for improvisation I didn’t take away much from this feature. Still it’s a good watch and everyone looked like they had a ball making the flick.
The extras are rounded out by a trailer for Crank 2 and upfront trailers for Gamer (also from Neveldine/Taylor), More Than a Game, and Transporter 3.
Crank 2: High Voltage isn’t a perfect film but it’s perfectly out of its mind. For a pure adrenaline-pumping good time this gonzo sequel will give you a helluva fix.