April 17, 2009

Crank 2: High Voltage

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Crank 2: High Voltage

ACTION/COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-04-17

Running Length:

1:25

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2:35:1

Cast:

Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Clifton Collins Jr., Bai Ling, David Carradine, Corey Haim, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam

Director:

Neveldine & Taylor

Screenplay:

Neveldine & Taylor

Cinematography:

Brandon Trost

Music:

Mike Patton

U.S. Distributor:

Lionsgate

Subtitles:

none


Crank 2: High Voltage is the freak show act at a carnival. It's so over-the-top that the phrase ceases to have meaning in this context. It's a bizarre concoction of testosterone, adrenaline, and psychedelics. It seeks not only to top its predecessor, Crank, but to outdo itself at every turn. The problem with all of this is not a lack of entertainment value but the sense of no longer watching a movie. There aren't any characters and there isn't a plot. It's an arcade video game (as is explicitly suggested by the opening credits) run amok, a series of sketches crammed together with no connective fabric. The experience of watching Crank 2 is so atypical that it passes unnoticed when the movie stops without ending (although, to be fair, loose ends are sewn up during the end credits).

Directors Neveldine & Taylor are unapologetic about their in-your-face, take-no-prisoners approach. The movie they have produced is exactly what they were aiming for. Realistically, the only way to follow up on Crank's outrageousness without seeming like a re-tread is to explode this far off the deep end. The envelope isn't just stretched; it's blown wide open. Still, for all that these proceedings are fun on a certain level, a hollow feeling awaits at the exit. It's like scarfing down junk food then feeling nauseous. You can't deny that it's tasty but the overindulgence makes you wish there was something a little more substantial there.

For those who remember, Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) died at the end of Crank. He fell out of helicopter, landed on top of a car, bounced high in the sky, then smacked down on the pavement. Even Michael Myers would have had trouble walking away from that, but Michael doesn't have Chev's grit. As Crank 2 opens, he is being hauled away from the scene of the accident and taken to a secret operating room. His heart is removed and replaced with an artificial model; he's kept alive so his other organs can be harvested at a later time on the black market. Needless to say, when Chev regains consciousness, he's none-too-pleased with these developments. So he goes on a hunt for his missing ticker while killing various nefarious people along the way. There's a problem with the mechanical replacement, however. Whenever the batteries run low, he needs to jolt himself with electricity or he collapses like a rag doll.

One reason that Crank 2 works as well as it does is that Jason Statham plays the straight man with unimpeachable aplomb. This what effective straight men do: ignore all the silliness around them and approach it without a wink or a smile. There are a bunch of returning faces from the first Crank, the most notable of which is Amy Smart, whose primary purpose is once again to engage in public debauchery with Statham. This time, it's on a race track. There's also some stunt casting going on - newcomers include Bai Ling (who parodies her crazy public image), Corey Haim, and David Carradine as the venerable Poon Dong.

Neveldine & Taylor's approach is varied and epileptic. The film's action scenes have been assembled in the editing room, with cutting about three times per second, still frames, comic book-like captions, cartoon sound effects (a tweeting bird when someone is hit over the head with a bottle), pixilation to "obscure" supposedly graphic sexual acts, and a number of other tweaks to visual conventions. There's a kinship here in style, if not substance, to Run Lola Run.

Crank 2 includes moments of near brilliance. Two newscast segments featuring John De Lancie (Star Trek's "Q") as an anchorman are bitingly satirical (the one-liner De Lancie delivers at the conclusion of the first one gets a big laugh). Topless dancers wielding guns take us into Grindhouse territory. And there's a wonderfully executed dream sequence/parody of the old Godzilla movies (in particular, King Kong Versus Godzilla) that you don't see coming. In fact, there's no reason for it to be there except the kitchen sink had already been tossed in and the filmmakers were looking for something else.

Other stuff doesn't work quite as well. There's too much Bai Ling - a little of her goes a long way. Her character gets hit by a car and we cheer because we think that's it, but she shows up again. I guess in a movie where someone can survive a fall from a helicopter, a little thing like a hit-and-run isn't going to slow anyone down. There's a flashback/dream sequence with Chev and his mother on a British TV talk show that brings the movie to a grinding halt. And there's a genuinely gruesome scene in which a man is lovingly and graphically shown slicing off his nipples. As a rule, blood and gore don't faze me, but I nearly had to look away. The scene is that uncomfortable.

So what to make of Crank 2? On balance, I enjoyed the first one a little better, but this one gets props for never giving up in its attempts to turn things up to 11. It's relentless, but there's more humor than suspense. Once a movie concedes that it cares more about skits, set-ups, and punch lines than characters, there's no room for real excitement or suspense, and that's what's missing. This reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero - a movie that tried a little too hard to be bold and failed as a result. Fans of Crank and other overblown action films will find plenty to savor in Crank 2. However, there's not enough here for me to recommend it without reservations to anyone outside of that narrow target audience.

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