Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Crank 2: High Voltage

Director: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Efrem Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam, Bai Ling
Running Time: 96 Min.
Rating: R

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Sometimes there's nothing like great trash. 2006's Crank was great trash. Crank 2: High Voltage is dirtier great trash. When I found out about this sequel my first thought was, "HOW?" But I should have known that you just don't ask any questions. The sequel picks up literally where the original left off, without skipping a beat or pausing to worry about how our hero could have possibly survived a 10,000 feet fall from a helicopter. Just as the tagline says, "He was dead...But He Got Better." That's all we need. The first movie was jacked up, high adrenaline fun that lacked any semblance of logic, but succeeded because it understood that and proudly rubbed our faces in it. It was more a video game adaptation than most films actually adapted from video games, knowing its place as a wicked satire of action films and never taking itself seriously.

Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's follow-up provides more insane awesomeness while adding bonus humor and vulgarity. It's sexist, racist and homophobic but they get away with it all by simply being in on the joke. Little needs to be said about any movie that features a shotgun being shoved up someone's rectum, nipples and elbows being cut off, a woman being shot in her silicone implants, a character with "Full Body Tourette's," a disembodied talking head and a title card that reads "9 SECONDS LATER." That time frame pretty much lets you know about the attention span required to follow the action. This definitely isn't for all (or maybe any) tastes but if you loved the first film you'll love this since it's essentially just a repeat of its prequel, even so much as cribbing individual scenes and situations, but with a nastier, more mean-spirited tone. As incredulous as they were, the events in the first movie did at least seem to spring organically out of the craziness the protagonist found himself in. Here, they're just piled on one after another for shock value which makes for a slightly inferior film but does nothing to lessen how entertaining it is. The novelty may be gone, but the thrills aren't.

Hitman Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), who in the original film was injected with a deadly Chinese cocktail that would kill him if his heart stopped pumping adrenaline, is scraped off the L.A. pavement after his deadly fall by Chinese mobsters. He wakes up three months later to discover they've replaced his indestructible ticker with an artificial battery-powered heart just long enough to keep him alive to harvest the rest of his organs. He escapes and finds out from Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam) that he must keep electricity running through his body to stay alive and hopefully reclaim his real heart from crime lord Johnny Vang (Art Hsu). Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Eve (Amy Smart), thinking he was dead, wasted no time getting on with her life and took up an interesting new profession, which effectively adds another layer of sleaze to an already very sleazy movie.

Whereas the original somewhat resembled an action movie of sorts, this one is a full-on parody loaded with rogues gallery of bizarre characters and weird events, jumping a mile a minute from one scenario to the next as Chev has to find creative ways to keep his artificial heart charged. Like him, we don't even get a second to catch our breath. This is the best example of an achievement of style over substance if there ever was one but Neveldine and Taylor do deserve credit as writers for coming up with a clever scenario to keep the franchise running and recognizing that the only way they were going to pull this off was to throw caution to the wind and turn the volume up on everything that worked in the first.

At the end of that film no one could stop talking about the infamous Chinatown scene and this time no one will be able to stop talking about the racetrack scene, which is really just an encore of it, except far crazier and more graphic. Amy Smart, so memorable in the first film, is given more to do this time around and plays an even larger role. We can hope she's paid really well for these movies considering the amount of sexual degradation her character endures, which she admirably never backs down from. And while the first interspersed classic rock songs over the soundtrack (i.e. Jefferson Starship's "Miracles") at the most insane moments, you'll have similar problems listening to The Marshall Tucker Band and REO Speedwagon the same way again after this.

You don't have to have seen the original to fully appreciate the sequel but it helps since there are many subtle and not so subtle nods to it throughout. In addition to Smart and Yoakam reprising their roles, Efren Ramirez returns, but as the twin brother of his flamboyant character from the previous movie. There's also a parade of welcome appearances from the likes of Gerri Haliwell (in something resembling a flashback scene), porn star Ron Jeremy, an unrecognizable Clifton Collins Jr., Corey Haim (in a mullet!) and a well disguised David Carradine in one of his final completed roles. Bai Ling's weirdness is utilized the best it's been yet as psycho Asian prostitute Ria.

Is it hypocritical of me to slam something like Transformers: ROTF while praising high-octane garbage like this? No, because this knows exactly what it is and doesn't pretend to be anything more. It actually pretends to be a whole lot less, playing more like a low-budget grindhouse exploitation flick than a mainstream action movie. Plus, this has Statham who's always a reliable bad ass and it capable of selling just about any crazy situation. The film's wildest moment is a power plant brawl that cleverly spoofs the Godzilla movies. No one can watch that scene and tell me the filmmakers aren't just out to deliver a fun time, nor can you hold the final product on screen to any normal standard of good taste. It might be slightly messier and uneven, but Crank 2 is riskier, succeeding exactly where its predecessor did in providing the ultimate mindless thrill fix.

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