Too good (read: absolutely terrible) for your f**king stars
Look, I like cerebral dramas and highbrow satire as much as the next hipster, but sometimes I want to see stuff get blown up. No, scratch that, I want to see it get blowed up. There’s no time for grammar when guns are involved. And nobody provides more bangs for my buck than Jason Statham. At no point in any Statham film will I learn a thing about myself or any issue affecting society. Never will I be preached at or condescending to. No, I know when I hand over my nine bucks that bodies will hit the floor very soon.
In the case of Crank: High Voltage, that happens sooner than normal. Actually, it opens with a body hitting the ground, and it’s Statham’s no less. He reprises the role of Chev Chelios, strangely named über-killer who tore a hole through L.A. gangs in the first installment and left just enough alive to justify a sequel. This film starts at the very end of the last one, with Chelios falling from a helicopter and dying on impact. Well, maybe not. Why did he not die? Because he’s Chev Chelios, and if you can’t accept that spend your money elsewhere. He wakes up to discover that Chinese surgeons cut out his heart and replaced it with a plastic one, and he escapes before they can harvest more organs and begins hunting down the gang members who took his ticker.
My word, did I just spend a whole paragraph talking about the plot? I must be going out of my mind. Crank 2 has no real plot and subsists on a diet of pure carnage. Chelios must do what he can to keep his fake heart charged, so every few minutes he zaps himself with a taser, sticks his finger in a socket, even rubs against people for friction. As he searches for his heart, he cuts a swath through the city that makes the last film look like an ABC Family production: if it has a pulse, Chelios will beat it, kill it, or screw it (in one bizarre scene near the beginning, one could argue, he does all three).
Tailing him at various points are old girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart), now a stripper; Ria (Bai Ling), a prostitute Chev saves at the start; and Venus (Efren Ramirez), twin brother of Chelios’ murdered friend Kaylo and sufferer of something called Full Body Tourette’s. He also corresponds with Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakum), who lacks serious medical knowledge but is by default the smartest character in the film when he asks Chelios “How are you even alive? Wait, never mind.” This band works their way through both Chinese triads and Mexican gangs eager for Chelios’ blood, leaving tattooed bodies and a media sensation in their wake.
As I watched Statham bomb around L.A. via Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s frenetic camera trickery, I couldn’t help but think of the movie as the American version of Run Lola Run, which is funny because I always thought that movie was a European commentary on the frantic and repetitious nature of American action franchises. It gives Crank 2 a sense of self-awareness that makes the film a piece of pure cinema, albeit one culled from the absolutely trashiest of trash. I almost wish I’d never seen the first, because I think all the flashbacks and callbacks would have been even funnier if I hadn’t.
My reaction to this film is nothing if not strange. I am repulsed by every second of it, from its shockingly racist caricatures (characters who speak perfectly understandable English are subtitled because they have accents) to its flagrant misogyny, and I've not even scratched the surface of what makes this without question the most offensive movie I've ever seen. But I couldn't tear my face away from the screen. This movie is all the questionable satiric elements of films such as Natural Born Killers, Fight Club -- their proximity to the things they're supposed to be sending up, alleged misogyny and fascism -- piled into one horrific mound of bleeding flesh. In that sense, I find this movie a fascinating social experiment into the current perception of the collegiate male demographic. No other film has been more a reflection of the audience who enjoys it, which makes my own sick interest in it all the more unsettling.
Yet by reveling in its un-P.C. nature, and employing its shocks because the writers simply thought they were funny and not just “edgy” (even when they absolutely, unequivocally are not), Crank 2 perversely works/doesn't work as a sub-comedic piece of nihilism where Observe and Report fell on its face. It’s a steroid injection into the buttocks of the tedious doldrums of spring cinema, a defiant middle finger to those who think a film should mean something or at least not be unabashedly terrible. Many action franchises get their own (usually shoddy) video games, so kids can feel like they’re a part of the action. I hope nobody makes a video game out of Crank: it would be redundant.
So what do I rate this? Are you kidding? This film eats stars. It deserves less than zero, yet I have a distubring fascination with it, like the infected soldier chained up in the yard in 28 Days Later. All you need to know is that this is a truer piece of B-movie revival since Grindhouse, meaning that it tries to be intentionally bad and succeeds where Grindhouse proved exhilarating and fun. Why the hell can't I turn away and run from this?