Thursday, April 23, 2009

Crank High Voltage: Rank prank

Crank: High Voltage (2009) • View trailer for Crank: High Voltage
One star (out of five). Rating: R, for violence, profanity, nudity, strong sexual content, drug use and just about every other depravity one could mention
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.23.09
Buy DVD: Crank: High Voltage • Buy Blu-Ray: Crank 2: High Voltage [Blu-ray]

My list of cinematic guilty pleasures includes Jason Statham's flicks, in great part because of his Transporter series: great car chases (take that, Fast & Furious), cleverly choreographed fight scenes, wonderfully hissable villains and plenty of chances for our action hero to deliver his frequently mordant wisecracks.

I even found 2006's Crank something of a giggle  as did my Constant Companion  because its premise was so insanely over the top: the need for contract hitman Chev Chelios (Statham) to remain in amped-up motion for 24 straight hours, lest his metabolism slow down and permit an injected poison to kill him.
Having rescued girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) from a fate worse than death --
working as a stripper for a club owner played (in a perfect bit of typecasting)
by reality TV misfit Corey Haim -- Chev (Jason Statham) finds that their
problems are only beginning, as several dozen Chinese Triad gangsters burst
into the room. Amazingly, none can shoot straight...

The writing/directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor went dog nuts with that film, mostly because of the ingenious methods poor Chelios employed  including a memorably public shag with surprised but willing girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart)  in an effort to keep his adrenaline going.

Crank cranked in roughly $28 million during its five-week release, not a bad return for a $12 million investment: no surprise, then, that all concerned got together again.

No surprise, as well, that Crank: High Voltage fails to recapture its predecessor's lunatic momentum. Such lightning almost never strikes twice.

This new film isn't merely bad; it's dreadful. I'll give Statham credit for gamely tackling everything Neveldine and Taylor threw at him, but it's impossible to make any other encouraging observations.

Much like Run, Lola, Run, the first Crank earned its rep through the inventive handling of an audacious concept. Neveldine and Taylor also understood the importance of getting off the stage as quickly as possible; Crank clocked in at an economical 87 minutes, and at that had worn out its welcome by the third act. One can take only so much of a film  and storyline  that demands hyperdrive every second.

Crank: High Voltage is a much longer 96 minutes, and I say that not just because of the additional nine minutes, but because this sequel feels like it drones on for years. Decades, even.

It ain't just the length; it's the content. And the content here is relentlessly vulgar, atrociously violent and  here's the important bit  not the slightest bit funny. Not even tastelessly funny. Merely tasteless.

Neveldine and Taylor made no apologies for the fact that the first Crank was little more than a live-action video game with a hero capable of taking punishment like The Roadrunner's Wile E. Coyote. Even when poor Chelios died in the final scene, having successfully gotten his bloody revenge against everybody who poisoned him, he fell from a high-flying helicopter to a city street below, conveniently bouncing off a car before crashing, intact, onto the pavement in order to give the camera a death's-eye stare.

As opposed to fragmenting and spraying like a ripe watermelon, you understand, were we paying the slightest attention to the laws of physics.

"He was dead," this new film's publicity campaign intones, "but he got better."

Indeed. Picking up right where the first film left off, Chelios' body is scooped up by Chinese mobsters and taken to some obscure hospital-like facility. Various nasties remove his nearly indestructible heart  which has been earmarked by the 100-year-old Poon Dong (David Carradine), head of the Chinese Triads  and replace it with a low-rent, battery-operated ticker.

Why not simply leave him on the table, sans heart, you may wonder? Because ol' Poon Dong apparently intends to harvest additional organs further down the road.

When Chelios finally wakes up, three months later, he's understandably annoyed; he checks himself out and learns  from seedy Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam), a longtime friend — that this artificial heart requires regular jolts of electricity, lest it cease to function.

One can imagine where this is destined to head, as our hero races to retrieve his original heart while trying to elude both the Chinese Triad and the Mexican mobsters who bedeviled him in the first film.

OK, so Chelios' first few flashes of inspiration are mildly amusing: He snatches an electrified dog collar being used by some dweeb to "train" his pooch, and later graduates to a police-issue portable taser. From that point forward, though, it becomes difficult to tolerate the increasingly ludicrous "solutions" to our hero's problem, most notably an even more public racetrack copulation with the even more willing Eve (Smart again, allowed to be feistier and more helpful this time around).

Friction, Doc Miles has suggested, could generate enough electricity to help. Briefly.


In fairness, such nonsense might be more palatable in the absence of the story's relentlessly barbaric tone: the gruesome dollops of violence, the one-note profanity and the offensive treatment of all women.

Bai Ling's slutty, foul-mouthed hooker may represent a new low for the entire film industry.

A-level action flick producer Joel Silver once infamously claimed that women had only two functions in his movies: to be naked or dead. Neveldine and Taylor apparently took that as a mantra: Several shoot-'em-ups in this bloodbath take place around and among nude hotties  strippers, hookers, pool babes, whatever  who take bullets on every inch of their lovingly exposed flesh.

The mere process of sitting through this offal leaves one wanting to take a shower.

Aside from all that, the story just goes off the rails time and time again, as if Neveldine and Taylor got wasted with several friends and threw ideas, like spaghetti, onto the walls ... just to see what looked the gloppiest. There's no other way to explain one detour, involving a protest march by porn stars, that doesn't seem the slightest bit scripted or rehearsed. Honestly, it's as if Neveldine and Taylor set up their camera and just told everybody to scream a lot.

But that scene, bewildering as it is, doesn't hold a candle to Chelios' final fist-fight with the Triad goon he has been chasing; the (admittedly not very) "real" world action suddenly shifts to a mock-up, slow-motion Godzilla homage, with a rubber-suited "Chev" and his adversary stomping an electrical sub-station to bits.

That's it: Everybody out of the pool.

A certain style of first-person-shooter video games requires a lot of "button-mashing": the repeated pressing of a controller button, in order to take out an advancing hoard of zombies, enemy soldiers or nasty extraterrestrials. I'd say that Neveldine and Taylor have made the first button-mashing movie, except that such a statement is an insult to most video games.

I'd like to believe that Crank: High Voltage is a career-killer: bad enough to ensure that Neveldine and Taylor never again get the chance to step behind a camera. (Statham can't be blamed for more than poor judgment.) But given the fact that Hollywood hasn't yet run out of new depths of depravity in which to wallow, that's probably a faint hope.

But you'd better think twice before including this turkey on your resume, Jason. It ain't no badge of honor.

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