There is an old saying in the world of people: “they’re trying too hard.” This works in the world of ridiculous cinema as well, as there are often times when a director (or directors) try too hard to be ridiculous, trying to hard to be extreme and trying too hard to provide the shock and awe necessary to make their film memorable. But every so often a filmmaker comes along with the ability to walk along the edge of what is too much and deliver a movie that is bizarre and loony and infectious in its ferociously psychotic and energetic nature. And that is where the filmmakers of Crank: High Voltage, co-writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have landed with their movie — smack dab on that line.
Their film — a sequel to the rockin’ intense 2006 action thriller Crank — picks up the moment that the first film ends, in which ultimate tough guy Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) has just fallen some 10,000 feet from a helicopter and landed on the pavement of an L.A. city intersection. Having miraculously survived the fall, Chelios is picked up (with a shovel, naturally) by a group of Triad gangsters and taken to a secret location where his heart is removed and replaced by a synthetic heart that is only meant to keep him alive for a few hours. The understandably upset Chelios decides that despite his condition, he’s going to go after the two-bit gangster who has snatched his “strawberry tart” and get it back before his new ticker runs out of juice.
And away we go from there, off into the wild world of the chase. Which should be a familiar situation for folks who loved the first Crank, as it is essentially the same formula. Chelios is presented with a chase and must find ways to stay alive — which in this film includes finding ways to electrocute himself at every turn — while he chases down the men responsible for his predicament. And the movie works this formula, like its predecessor, in the most unapologetic way possible, turning up the noise to 11 with thunderbolts of violence, naked women and general mayhem. We’re talking the extreme of everything here folks — from a shoot-out in a strip club that results in a stripper’s breast implants being burst by stray gunfire to a wild Big Man Japan-style dream sequence that involves Jason Statham with a huge prosthetic head (and chin to match) battling his equally augmented nemesis.
All of the mayhem is heightened by the way that Neveldine and Taylor, two sensory overload geeks with a budget and a bunch of high tech equipment, shoot the damn thing. Their camera work is fast paced and at times a little shaky, though not quite Greengrass-esque, but it creates a vibrant and pulsating visual experience that brings the intensity of Chev’s situation to life on a level that even the first Crank can’t touch. As well, the scene to which they pay the most attention is a strip club scene in which the lovely Amy Smart — back as Chev’s girlfriend Eve — does a booty shaking strip tease. And rightfully so, as it is this type of optical hedonism that puts asses in the seats. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the wild sex scene that involves a horse racing track, an old lady, a fire hose and a naked Amy Smart, have we?
At this point I’m sure you get the idea — Crank: High Voltage, while completely implausible, hyper-ridiculous and borderline incoherent at times, is a wild ride and most importantly, it is a lot of fun. Over the years Jason Statham has become Hollywood’s go-to guy for an ass-kicking good time, and with the Crank series he has done what can easily be described as his most ambitious work. Neveldine and Taylor, the mad scientists at the wheel of this crazy train, have once again created a hyper-real environment filled with bullets and characters that are equally as piercing. And its not just Chev Chelios, the heart of it all, that makes it work. Bai Ling shows up as a bat-shit crazy Chinese hooker who latches on to Chev after he saves her life. And while she’s way over the top in the heinous dialog that she delivers — which is so out there that it even her English must be subtitled — it works perfectly within the context of the film. Also working perfectly is the presence of Corey Haim as Eve’s new strip club manager boyfriend. He only has two scenes, but one of them ends with him getting his ass beat by Amy Smart. Yeah, I know, awesome.
Of course, it is easy for me to lop praise on top of the experience that this movie delivers and the unabashed insanity that it sprays all over its faithful audience because I am, in fact, one of those faithful. The film’s only problem is its inaccessibility — it is certainly not for everyone. It is wild and crazy and all sorts of chaotic, but it is obviously a very niche movie. Some people will go into a movie like this, expectations aside, and find it to be an inane exercise in excess, a mindless tribute to violence and sex and dudes cutting off their own nipples. And on the other side there are people like me who eat that shit up. It is up to you to decide where you fit — and should you fit on my side of the equation, I would urge you to head out and get yourself some more Crank.