Crank: High Voltage is a movie with a limited target audience. It is not for those who go to the theaters to make out with their dates. It is not for those who pop in a DVD to relax after a hard day’s labor. It is not for small children, those with heart conditions, or women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. And frankly, it’s vile enough that I would not be at all surprised to discover it were carcinogenic. But, like a pack of Marlboro Reds, it is not something without a certain charm and appeal. More after the jump:
Crank: High Voltage picks up just where the first film ended. Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios falls from a helicopter, bounces off a car, and lands face first in the center of Los Angeles. Seconds later he is, abducted by Chinese gangsters so that his organs can be harvested for a 100-year old crime boss played by David Carradine, (performing in Yellowface). Soon, Chelios finds himself on another bloody trail of revenge as he attempts to retrieve his stolen heart before his artificial ticker–which he powers up using everything from a dog’s bark collar to a lap dance-runs out of juice. Along the way he accidentally wins the heart of a loudmouthed hooker, commits felony level indecent exposure, and incites a war between Chinese Triad’s and Latino street gangs. Also, he fights in a Godzilla suit in one scene.
Though it is clear by this point that neither Mark Neveldine nor Brian Taylor is a very deep filmmaker, their understanding of how to play on the human psyche is undeniable. Crank: High Voltage is an experiment in sado-masochism that would do the Marquis de Sade proud. It is unusually venial. One does not watch this film, one experiences it. From beginning to end, one is made to feel this movie. Every scene is designed to elicit sadistic joy or masochistic pain/pleasure. We laugh as a stripper’s breasts deflate after her implants are popped by a stray bullet, and then cringe as we watch a man scream in agony after the nub of his elbow is removed with the aid of a machete.
It is no mistake that the violence towards women is “funny” while the violence towards men is made to be “painful”. This is just another layer of the film’s degenerate, cancerous humor. Everything is wrong, and everything pushes buttons. The racism is off the chart as Bai Ling plays what appears to be a comedic take on the “Me so horny” prostitute from Full Metal Jacket. The sexism is off the chart as women after women is insulted, demeaned, and mutilated. And all of it is filmed from the most prurient camera angles this side of a John Stagliano video.
So, aside from Mike Patton’s mindbendingly awesome score, why am I recommending this film?
For all the rampant bigotry on display in the movie, it is also an almost utopian film. Intermixed in all the repellant viciousness one will find specks of evidence that the filmmakers are not partaking in racism so much as they are creating a cruel spoof. Take for example the moment where Chelios steals a Triad’s car; never before have I actually heard Asian pop music playing in a mainstream Hollywood film. Too, in the middle of the exploitative public sex scene we actually get a slow-motion shot a Amy Smart’s face contorting in orgasmic joy*. We even get an entire gang of very out gay action heroes. And frankly, Crank: High Voltage has a more multicultural cast than almost any movie in recent memory**.
Unlike the original film there is no pretense of seriousness in Crank: High Voltage. The first film began in something that loosely (very loosely) resembled our reality before shifting into surrealism, the sequel takes the absurdity of the climax of part one as the moment of stasis. Everything is bigger, stranger, and more over the top. The entire movie operates on the understanding that everyone, including the filmmakers, knows that there is absolutely no reason for there to be a sequel to Crank. Almost every single character from part one is shoehorned into this film, including a number of characters that died previously. Inconsequential elements are shifted to the center, like the a long discussion of a male nurse’s post-traumatic stress disorder, while seemingly important details, such as the ultimate fate of our protagonist, are left completely by the wayside. The I-can’t-believe-this-movie-exists style humor climaxes as we get a hilarious flashback that gives us many details into Chelios’s childhood, but absolutely no insight into his psyche.
Really, I shouldn’t recommend Crank: High Voltage. It’s a representation of everything that is wrong with cinema and yet…it was also one of the very best times I have ever had in a movie theater. It’s bad for you, but like a cigarette, sometimes you’ve just got to light up.
Crank: High Voltage (or Crank 2: High Voltage as the horrendous DVD case refers to it) comes in a two Disc set. The first disc houses the film and the special features while the second disc has a “Fully Charged” digital copy. I didn’t even know they used batteries.
The Film actually looks better on DVD than it did in the theaters. Though Neveldine/Taylor do amazing things with their consumer grade camcorders, the film never really overcame the pixilated, everything’s-in-focus-all-at-once feel of the imagery. At home, this problem is greatly diminished.
The disc features a couple of nice bonus features.
First there is a director’s commentary with Neveldine and Taylor. I was surprised by how un-fun this was. I met Taylor briefly at Comic-Con and he was a cool, funny, and anecdote filled chap. Unfortunately, very little of this comes through on the DVD. Instead of sharing some of their more wild stories, the director’s choose to crack wise about the film and make the most obvious jokes possible. I suppose it will be refreshing to some to hear filmmakers sit around and laugh at their own film, but I just wasn’t that entertained.
Luckily, the disc also features an extensive, two part, 50-minute making-of documentary. This doc mixes the jokey feel of the commentary track with some really interesting information on the actual technical prowess that went into making this visually striking film. The doc could have been edited more tightly, but it’s still filled with good info and some pretty funny comedic flourishes.
Lastly, the disc features an outtakes segment that is, for once, actually funny. Instead of a five-minute reel of actors flubbing their lines, Crank: High Voltage has a montage of all the major “fuck ups”. Every time the camera shows up on screen. Every time a crew member shows up in the background, every time there is a massive continuity error. It’s a really cool little feature because there are some big mistakes here, but I didn’t notice any of them, and I’ve seen the movie three times.
Never has the phrase “Motion Picture” been more accurate than with Crank: High Voltage. This nonstop splatter-punk actioner will freak many people out, it will offend still more, but if you’ve got a jaundiced sense of humor like I do, you will have a great time. Just don’t watch it in mixed company.
The Movie: B
The DVD: B+
The Soundtrack: A++
*In a shot that reminded me of the moment in Boys Don’t Cry that earned that film an NC-17.
**If one were so inclined, it could even be argued that Bai Ling’s entire performance acts as a critique of the “Dragon Lady” persona with which she is so often associated. Her cringe inducing hooker acting as an embodiment of what would actually happen if an Asian woman acted in the insane, subhuman, and hypersexualized manner of so many blue jokes. By acting out these stories the stereotypes they enforce are exploded.