On the eve of its release in 2006, some local pals accommodated me at their screening for the first Crank film, and when my reaction afterward was one of surprising enthusiasm, they kindly chalked it up to a matter of "demographics." (To them, this most recently excused my thoughts on Observe and Report as well.)
Three years later, I found myself attending a midnight show of Crank: High Voltage alongside plenty of demographically-appropriate (read: texting) kin, anxious to see just how Jason Statham's unstoppable hitman is going to beat the odds this time around. And three reels later, I began to wonder whether or not too much had finally become just that. Oh, dear... what if they told me to leave my brain at the door and my heart still wasn't in it?
Heart, as you may know, happens to be the name of the game here. Chev Chelios (Statham) was driven in the last film by a desperate need to stave off a poison coursing through his veins with any and all manner of adrenaline-boosting methods, and after taking a mighty fall from a helicopter at that film's end, he's simply scraped off the pavement here and soon having his organs harvested against his will -- first up: his ticker, now replaced by a battery-powered model that could use a surge of electricity now and then in order for it, and him, to keep going.
If you want to remain completely unspoiled as to what shenanigans Chelios and writer/directors Neveldine/Taylor are up to, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs...
The difference is, while Crank 1 was a proudly ridiculous action vehicle out to top most others in its genre, Crank 2 is considerably more interested in topping its predecessor, if not itself at every turn. That's the difference between seeing Chev chop off a foe's hand and use his own gun (in his own hand) to shoot him and seeing Chev lube up a shotgun before sticking it where the sun doesn't shine, and while both moments serve as a means to an end, the latter feels like shock for shock's sake instead of something morbidly inventive. And so it goes: elbows get chopped off, nipples get sliced off, breast implants have holes blown in them and proceed to leak, old ladies cuss, etc. The scene in Chinatown where Chev and his ditzy gal (Amy Smart) pump in public to supportive tourists? Now they're doing it on a race track as horses bolt by and the crowd cheers on.
So Smart's back, as is defective doctor Dwight Yoakam and, against all odds, Efren Ramirez as a brother avenging his own character's death (naturally). There's even a cameo by traumatized paramedic Glenn Howerton that amusingly reminds us of the warped sense of cosmic justice in this particular universe (though turning that middle finger from the characters towards the viewer is a different story). New faces include a hump-happy Bai Ling, a wily David Carradine, a greasy Corey Haim, a villainous Clifton Collins Jr., a handful of real-life porn stars and Lloyd Kaufman. In fact, there's a decent stretch of the film where there are so many other characters at play that it only becomes apparent that Chev Chelios has seemingly vanished altogether the very moment that he pops back up again to lead his own film.
It's okay, you can come back now.
It's the type of movie where Dr. Yoakam says, "I'm stoked you're alive, dude," and it's a sentiment likely shared by a crowd eager to see some [stuff] they ain't never seen before, though that sword has two edges. On the one hand, we don't need flashbacks within flashbacks taking us on a tour of Chev's childhood. It's the Saw syndrome that lead to fatigue with those sequels, when a film desperately trying to out-sick itself pads itself with the dullest asides. We've never seen that before because we don't need to see that. On the flip side, there is some imagery here that is so gonzo that I can only admire the fact that any studio managed to get it on 2,000+ screens involving giant heads, severed heads, hunks of burning love, and the most literally colorful uses of the f-bomb imaginable. In any other world, some of these sequences would be considered downright avant-garde.
But we're only in this world, and if all you ask for is something you've never seen, Crank: High Voltage will be happy to oblige. Chev Chelios is the freakish Superman/Frankenstein hybrid for a new age, taking pain for our pleasure and never once cracking a smile. He used to thrill me, though, and as I grow up, the Crank franchise goes down a notch or two.
Now there's something I never thought I'd see.