A film review by Craig J. Koban
April 28, 2009

CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE jjj
½ 

2009, R, 85mins.

Chev Chelios: Jason Satham / Eve: Amy Smart / Dwight Yoakam: Doc Miles / Bai Ling: Ria / El Huron: Clifton Collins Jr. / Poon Dong: David Carradine / Randy: Corey Haim

Written and directed by Neveldine and Taylor

Some films have to be seen to believed.  

No more is that sentiment truer than in the case of CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE. Even after watching it, I stumbled out of the theatre still disbelieving what I experienced for 85 minutes.

I have never seen anything like this in all my years reviewing movies.  Subtlety has been freely abandoned.  Restraint is laughed at.  Decency is a vile, four letter word.  Civility is a distant afterthought.  Plausibility is thrown completely out of the widow.   CRANK 2 is a pure, unadulterated, and endlessly unhinged exercise in crude, vulgar, and gratuitous ribaldry.  It’s unrelentingly nihilistic, incalculably lewd, and almost psychotically over-the-top and outrageous.  If it is not the single most insane movie that has been theatrically released in a very long time then I truly don’t know what is.  Some movies celebrate mindless trashiness: CRANK 2 utterly personifies it. 

Just consider the opening few minutes of the film:  We revisit the events of the very first CRANK film from 2006, during which Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is dropped out of a helicopter from a fatal height for any mere mortal, smashes into a parked car, reverberates off of it like it was a trampoline, and then hits the concrete.  Needless to say, he looked very dead at the end of CRANK 1.  As this second film takes over, some mean looking men come over to him, literally scoop him off of the pavement with a shovel, and then take him away so that he can have his barely alive body operated on.  His heart is then removed and replaced by an artificial model and is subsequently kept alive so he can have his organs harvested and then sold on the black market (especially one vital part than no man wants sold off to the highest bidder).  He then escapes, smashes his way through various faceless henchmen, until he finally interrogates one bad guy by using methods that would have made the guards at Gitmo recoil in horror.  Let’s just say it involves a double barrel shotgun dipped in motor oil and then shoved into a very private part of the anatomy that, under most legal definitions, would constitute sexual assault. 

Yes…as stated…this is just the first few minutes of CRANK 2. 

Do you know what’s almost paradoxical about my reaction to this film?  At face value, CRANK 2 is soulless, brainless, bombastic, and has no semblance of morality.  It's not a film, it’s rather a fearlessly uninhibited circus show where just when you think it could no go any further, it jabs you in the eye with a hypodermic needle and mocks your naiveté.  Very few films have ever asked audience members with such daring, almost scathing, audacity to scorn and loathe it, and there is certainly much here to offend just about anyone's sensibilities.  The simple reaction to CRANK 2 is to hate it with every fiber of one’s being.  Yet, as the film progressed from one jaw-dropping, head-shaking, and eye-rolling set piece to the next, I found myself accepting it as a work of unapologetic, freakish inventiveness.  For all of the times where I have lamented that too many modern films suffer from being obnoxiously unrefined and chaotically messy, I think I have finally found my match in this film: CRANK 2 is kind of gloriously and admirably unrestrained and unflinching in its tasteless excesses.  After awhile, I just found it next to impossible to stop my uncontrollable laughter all the way through it. 

The film’s prequel was very much in the same vein, but not on this galactically oversized level.  You may recall that film being about a British hitman (Chelios) living in Los Angeles who is poisoned so badly that the only way that he can keep himself alive is to keep his adrenaline flowing constantly for as long as humanly – or inhumanly – possible.  The methods he embarked on were sensationalistic, insane, and frequently hilarious (my favourite method involved him trying to get psyched up to a radio playing "Achy Braky Heart").  Near the end of that film, after the hero has exhausted just about every single known method (and ones I never knew existed) to keep his juices flowing, he is thrown out of a helicopter (as described earlier) to his death.  

Alas, don't worry, because Chelios is like a living, breathing Energizer Bunny here.  As the sequel’s tagline states, “Chev Chelios was dead.  But he got better!” 

As mentioned, at the beginning of CRANK 2 Chelios is now the recipient of an artificial heart that has a large battery attached to his body.  Of course, he calls his doctor, Miles (once again played by the wonderfully sleazy Dwight Yoakum), who wisely and matter-of-factly tells Chelios that he has been fitted with a "AbioCor Artificial heart".  Once its external battery runs out, the internal battery kicks in, but it only lasts one measly little hour (all of this is explained in one of the film’s more brilliant comic sequences, which takes the form of an animated slide show, kind of like one would find in a high school science class).  In essence, the only way that Chelios can keep his mechanical ticker…ticking…is to electrically shock himself via any means necessary.    

Here's where the fun begins.

One of the sickening pleasures of this film is seeing just how far Chelios goes to juice himself up.  This also is the source of the film’s absurdly dark laughs.  At one early point he takes jumper cables out of his car and attaches one end to his nipple and the other to his tongue.  In another uproarious moment he is tasered, multiple times, by the police, which has the proper intended effect for him, much to the cops' dismay.  In an even more unspeakably funny sequence he manages to take an electronic dog collar off of an unruly canine (it's used by the owner to send the pooch a quick shock when it acts inappropriately) and puts it on himself.  For a really quick jolt, Chelios even goes as far as licking his finger and shoving it into a cigarette car lighter.  

For a much larger "hit", he even is willing to grab powerline transformer boxes.  Hell, he even manages to try some truly unorthodox methods, as suggested by Doc Miles.  In the film’s most notorious sequence, Miles tells Chelios that rigorous flesh to flesh contact against another person causes static electricity, which leads the desperate Chelios to sneak up on complete strangers so he can...well...ya know.  When this proves tricky, he conveniently manages to reconnect with his ditzy girlfriend from the first film, Eve (Amy Smart, showing a willingness to do just about anything here), and decides to once again have intercourse with her in a very public place (a race track), this time hoping that the required "static friction" will come about.  The end result is one of the most sublimely preposterous and truly funny sex scenes I have ever seen, and I thought the first CRANK’s public sex scene was giggle inducing. 

I have not said much about the film’s plot.  Well…what plot?!  CRANK 2 is essentially an excuse for topping the limitless incredulity of the first film’s antics, and as this sequel leaped head first from one grotesquely overstated moment to the next, it sure became hard not to go with it on its truly disturbing and side-splitting ride.  One person on the IMDB.com forums very aptly described it as “Looney Tunes for adults.”  This is not so much an old school action heavy flick to appease die hards of the genre as it is a violent slapstick farce that flirts with self-satire at times.  CRANK 2 is a hyper-stylized live action cartoon with blood, bullets, f-bombs galore, explosions, hardcore nudity, endless raunchiness, and an almost inexhaustible level of blatant, take-no-prisoners ludicrousness.  The film is a force of sick and twisted nature and the more inane it became, the more I gleefully applauded its sheer inanity. 

CRANK 2 is also not as dumb as you may think.  Okay…it’s plenty dumb, but there are a few moments that achieve a level of perverted and innovative genius.  The film replays the ending of the first film during the opening sequence largely with old school, Atari 2600 video game graphics (which is very suitable, seeing as CRANK 2 and its predecessor is one big, bold arcade game).  John De Lancie (famous as the enigmatic “Q” on TV’s STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) briefly plays an anchorman in two short scenes that are cheerfully acerbic. There is also a flashback sequence that involves Chelios as a young boy with his mother (played by Geri Halliwell) appearing on a British talk show where the host tries to understand the young adolescent’s penchant for violence and debauchery.  There is yet another sly scene which involves a victim of Chelios’ from the first film trying to overcome his grief by talking about his feelings with an incredibly horny and sex-obsessed psychologist (played by Lauren Holley, throwing caution to wind in mass dosages) which results in one of the film’s most joyfully predictable moments of gruesome violence.  

Oh…and there is also a character (played by Pedro from NAPOLEON DYNAMITE himself, Efren Ramirez) that shows up to help Chelios, but his “full body tourettes” (wild, unpredictable and orgasmic body shaking) frequently checks in at wildly inappropriate times. 

Then there is one moment which nearly had me on the floor of the theatre which involves Chelios facing off against his main adversary, Johnny Vang (Art Hsu) at an electricity plant (Vang happens to have Chelios' actual heart in a portable freezer).  At this point what would have been a standard fight scene instead uproariously morphs into a fantasy/dream sequence that serves as – I kid you not – a loving homage to Godzilla films.  Few action pictures have been so passionately and fiendishly bizarre, and moments like this one almost make you want to jump up and applaud the filmmakers’ unrepressed innovation and subversives.  I love it when directors are willing to try and do absolutely anything to get a reaction from me.  

The men behind the camera here, an entity known as Neveldine & Taylor (or more plainly Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) are just confidently twisted enough to try anything.  What they lack in terms of screenwriting skills (this film has no story; it’s essentially set pieces and stunts) they really make up for it in terms of stylistic gusto and an unpretentious craftiness and inventiveness.  This film, even more so than CRANK 1, shows how crazily deranged they are in terms of their stylistic approach.  Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in here: frantic editing, slow motion, multiple still frames, comic book captions, flashy subtitles, incalculably fast and dizzying camera pans, and, on one droll occasion, they even go as far as to use pixilation to obscure what appears to be the genitalia of Chelios and Eve during their infamous "coming together."  Usually, a hyperactive visual style borders on migraine inducing, but here I think it just reinforces the pure lunacy of the entire enterprise: CRANK 2 should look as hectic and frantic as it feels

Finally, some serious accolades need to be bestowed upon Jason Statham, who achieves the Herculean feat of still appearing the impenetrable straight man during this catatonic film (even when Chelios is faced with a shocking revelation about the condition and whereabouts of the first CRANK's main villain – which teeters on pure, goofy, Ed Wood territory for mindless and logic defying invention – he still remains the film’s solid, grounded anchor).   Many out there will really question my sanity for my star rating for the film, but I will defend myself first by saying that CRANK 2 does go a bit overboard a few times (like with too many scenes involving the increasingly annoying Bai Ling, not to mention a needlessly gruesome sequence that involves a character slicing off his own nipples…which seriously crossed a squirm inducing decency threshold that even alienated my liberal eyes).  Yet, my job as critic is to report on my overall reaction to this film, and CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE is – God help me – bigger, broader, crazier, trashier, and more delightfully flippant that the first film.  If you check your brain out at the theatre door (which is an absolute requirement here, folks), and drink in the film’s merciless insanity, cheerful disdain for all earth-bound logic and reality, and hilarious, adrenaline-induced antics, then I think you’ll find CRANK 2’s parade of unrepentant extremes an unmitigated and contagious hoot.  I guess that I just loved this film's devious sense of reckless abandon: It simply does not care what it does to juice up viewers, and its unwavering commitment is its strength.

For the rest of you conservative viewers out there: consider yourself warned.  

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