Monday, May 11, 2009

Review - Crank: High Voltage

The last time we saw Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), he was falling out of a helicopter without a parachute, which is never a good idea, and heading towards the concrete with alarming velocity. That's how Crank ended, and it was a climax that surely negated any possibility of a sequel, but filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who take joint writing and directing credits, have little time for plausibility. So here comes Crank: High Voltage, an unnecessary sequel that begins with Chev's body being scooped up off the road moments after the first film came to a close. He's still alive, though – as the poster's witty tagline puts it: "He was dead, but he got better" – and when he awakes to discover his heart has been stolen...well, wouldn't you be a bit pissed off?

The gimmick that drove Crank was a fast-acting poison that Statham's character had been injected with, which would kill him unless he managed to keep the adrenaline pumping through his body at all times; it was like a version of Speed with the bus being replaced by a near-indestructible human being. The film took its cue from this premise, and maintained a ridiculously frenetic pace, as if Neveldine and Taylor were afraid of the consequences should they slow down; and as Chev did whatever it took to keep his heart racing, the film bowled ahead with an admirable, if misplaced, energy. I always felt that Crank somehow never quite hit the absurd heights it was clearly straining for, and while I enjoyed its invention and tongue-in-cheek tone, I spent much of the picture wishing it was a little more fun. In the end, I wrote Crank off as a funny curiosity; one of those strange little oddities that Hollywood occasionally burps out, and wondered what the directorial duo would do next.

Dispiritingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, they've tried to milk a little more juice out of an idea which was running dry at the end of the first film. Crank: High Voltage is a sequel few people really wanted, and nobody really needed, and in its efforts to outdo the original in every aspect, it quickly outstays its welcome. Without a heart to keep ticking this time around, Chev must instead keep his electronic substitute charged by any means necessary, so we see him attaching jumper cables to his tongue, wearing an electric dog collar, and rubbing against strangers to generate static electricity. It's a neat enough idea, and at times it tosses up some amusing results, but nothing feels as fresh this time around, and the filmmakers too often rehash ideas from the first film in a bigger way. Once again, Chev and his girlfriend (Amy Smart) have sex in front of a large crowd (this time with horses galloping by for good measure), and Dwight Yoakam performs much the same function in his lacklustre cameo that he did first time around. It's not unusual for a sequel to reheat an old recipe, of course, but the film's excesses are less tolerable this time round, and while there are flashes of ingenuity (the Godzilla fight is a rare original moment), its desire to top itself in every scene eventually grows dull.

However, what kills Crank: High Voltage is not so much the content as the tone of the thing. Crank was hardly a model of sensitivity, but this film is just ugly and cheap. It revels in its misogyny, homophobia and racism, desperate to elicit shocked laughter from the viewer, and packing almost every scene with nasty-minded violence (a man raped with a lubricated shotgun, a stripper shot in the breasts causing bloody silicone to ooze out) and lazy cultural stereotyping. What on earth is David Carradine doing here, under Fu Manchu makeup as a character named Poon Dong? And I felt sorry for Bai Ling, whose "me sucky long time" whore is an embarrassment. But above all, I was disappointment in Jason Statham, going through the motions in a film that doesn't do him any favours. I'm a fan of Statham's. He has a striking, athletic screen presence, and in the Transporter films he has proven himself as an action star of note, but Crank: High Voltage is a blot on his CV. If Jason Statham really wants to maximise his film potential, he should probably steer clear of scripts that ask him to utter dialogue like, "Did someone drop some change, or did I just hear a chink?"