Imagine, if you will, the sight of a man; he’s pale, sweaty, shaking and has an anxious look about him that implies he’s had an overdose of adrenaline and caffeine. He’s not Chev Chelios from the first Crank movie, but me, turning up for a screening of Crank: High Voltage. I’m a big fan of method audience participation, but even I didn’t intend to replicate the Chelios look (minus the physique) quite so accurately, but having missed my intended train when it left the station early and resorting to plan B (panic), I then proceeded to drink Redbull, the drink of choice from Crank, in order to counteract the tiredness from the previous nights’ double dose of Statham (a thoroughly recommendable pairing of Cellular and Crank, with added beer and Chinese food). Such was my excitement at finally getting a new Crank fix after waiting for two and half years, that I felt it necessary to make celebratory preparations in honour of the new king of action (see Simon’s article here for more on our crowning).
Jason Statham’s movie franchises have become increasingly more important to me over the last few years, providing a much needed and reliable source of pure action movie entertainment, especially in a time where a large number of the films I’ve seen seem to be offensively bland. Yet the aspect of his films that surprises me most, is that he is the sole box office draw and with no other names to fall back on, Statham’s brand of cinematic violence has led to a string of profitable big screen releases, with Crank: High Voltage standing next in line for those of us who simply love seeing him tear up the screen.
So, as I sit here anxiously waiting for the lights to go down, filled with a level of expectation and excitement that most people reserve for much bigger sequels, I’m frantically scribbling out the start of this review before the combination of High Voltage, Statham and Redbull take hold and what follows turns out to be an unintelligible mess. Also know that if it all proves too much, I’d really appreciate some letters when I’ve been locked up.
96 minutes later…
The words… I can’t find them… my brain has been fried to a crisp with the insane overload that is Crank: High Voltage. I just can’t think of the right way to describe what I’ve just seen. I really didn’t think it was possible to up the ante from the first Crank, already so crazily over the top, yet somehow C: HV succeeded and my poor, happy head is spinning. Never before have I seen such a true sequel, in that it sticks to the traditional formula of being essentially the same film again, with an increase of sex, violence and profanity, but my god, what an increase.
C: HV is so very, very obscene that its main strength is likely to also be its undoing. I never thought I’d say this about the film but it almost asks too much of its audience, as it pushes the limits of taste more than any other mainstream movie I can think of, and is likely to leave people either revelling or reviled. I survived the sensory onslaught and am still keen for more, but then again I’m not a terribly good marker for good taste and decency when it comes to cinema. Take what you’ve already seen in Crank and then use these examples to decide for yourself if High Voltage is going to appeal to you:
Within minutes the film has already exploded into a mass of naked women and violence, only now every gun shot wound seems much more graphic and before you can catch your breath, Statham’s character, Chelios, who was never much of a charmer, has oiled up the end of a shotgun and rammed it into a bad guys’ orifice (the same orifice where the sun is unlikely to shine) in order to extract information. Now that’s a high point for the Crank scale of decency.
Blood and gore fill the screen with the same kind of gusto which is normally reserved for hardcore horror films: organs and limbs are sliced and smashed with stomach turning vigour, while Chelios and his surrounding company of miscreants turn the air bright blue. If you thought the language in Crank was bad, High Voltage is likely to be a hard movie to beat in its swear words to dialogue ratio, with Statham spitting out the infamous c-word more times than I’ve ever heard before, which is a bit of a shame after its fine comical use in Crank when it was unexpected.
Continuing with its blue theme, there is another ‘necessary’ sex scene involving Amy Smart’s character, this time with more nudity, more spectators and veers into the domain of pornography so closely that the blurry blocks of censorship make an unexpected appearance, though whether this was at the censors’ request, a use of the Crank movies affinity for visual pop references, or just to hide the more intimate biological workings of the actors, is difficult to know.
Most of the above, though, kept me laughing solidly, as the dark sense of comic fun kept me thoroughly entertained, but where C: HV misfired for me was when its attempts to be shocking fell into the trap of being so puerile they felt lazy, which most of the movie avoided with its constant strive to find ingenious ways for Chelios to keep his electric heart beating. Unoriginal clichés rear their ugly head, such as the old woman who uses obscene language, Bai Ling’s “Love you long time!” schtick and one character’s ‘full body tourettes’, which added nothing but a convenient problem at obvious points in the film, but failed to be funny in any way.
Criticising the Crank movies for such trivialities as dialogue, plot or gratuitous sex and violence is not what really matters, though. What matters is how well Statham tears up the screen and in that respect he is spectacular. I can imagine few actors that would throw themselves so wholeheartedly (no pun intended) into such an insane film, managing to convince us that he could actually connect himself to a car battery, via jump leads to his tongue and nipple and then run a couple of miles without blinking.
Mention should also go to the score by Mike Patton, who’s known mostly for being the front man of the fantastic (and recently re-formed) band Faith No More, though here his output is more in the surreal and eclectic vein of his other music ventures such as Mr Bungle and Fantomas. At times Patton’s music makes the film feel like more of a contemporary western than a standard action flick and the pairing of him to C: HV makes perfect sense as the film becomes increasingly removed from any sense of reality (one fight scene has to be seen to be believed as things suddenly become an homage to Godzilla).
I’d like to think of myself as more prepared than most for the psychosis of Crank: High Voltage, but even my desensitised brain triggered my jaw to drop at times, so I really do wonder what impact it’ll have on an unsuspecting general public. Yet despite my love for its unrestrained depravity, it still suffered from the same problem as the first, in that it’s mostly fantastic fun but loses slight focus and momentum in its last act, a trait which is most likely unavoidable as I doubt the human brain is capable of dealing with such a massive visual and aural bombardment, even with its slim running time.
Crank 3 is almost certain to happen, especially as no one really expected a franchise to spawn after the end of number one, but with Chelios’ comic book ability to defy the laws of biology and keep coming back for more, I can’t see anything stopping him until the writers run out of body parts to use. I, for one, will still be waiting with open arms, but am utterly at a loss as to how the vile spectacle of High Voltage can be surpassed without being banned. That said, I thought the same thing about the first one.
Crank 2 is on general release now.