Lionsgate // 2009 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 8th, 2009
He was dead...but he got better.
In 2006, a little movie called Crank was released without much fanfare in the doldrums of September (where movies go to die) and knocked action fans on their asses. From its boundless energy to its ridiculous premise to its even more over-the-top execution, Crank was a minor masterpiece of insanity -- both the logical evolution of the action film and an original, innovative take on a sometimes tired genre.
Now, we have Crank 2: High Voltage, a movie that makes Crank seem positively tame by comparison. How is that possible?
When we last saw Chev Chelios (Jason Statham, Cellular) in Crank, he had fallen thousands of feet from a helicopter and landed will full force on the pavement. A good place to wrap up a movie, no? No! So Crank 2: High Voltage finds man of action Chelios literally being scooped off the sidewalk so that his unstoppable organs can be harvested and given to Chinese gangster Poon Dong (David Carradine, Death Race 2000). After having his heart removed and replaced by a new battery-powered contraption, Chev busts out of the operating room and heads off to get his heart back -- which involves facing off with gangs of murderers, fending off the advances of an obsessed "fan" (Bai Ling, Southland Tales), reuniting with his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart, Bigger Than the Sky) and giving himself electrical jolts every few minutes to keep his heart going.
Crank 2: High Voltage (which, for the record, is only what the movie's called on the DVD jacket; the title appears onscreen, in all the supplements and even back during its theatrical release as just Crank: High Voltage) is a movie made for a small group of people, but that small group of people will embrace and love it dearly. Everyone else -- those who are even able to stand watching it -- is likely to hate it. Such is the nature of Crank 2.
In the original Crank, the premise was much more inspired: a guy needs constant adrenaline to stay alive. That's what defined the movie's manic and demented aesthetic. With that world already established, writer/director team Neveldine/Taylor (it's obnoxious and more than a little pretentious that they go by only their last names) don't have to worry about coming up with a real story. Guy loses heart. Guy gets new heart. Guy needs constant jolts to keep heart going. Guy wants old heart back. GO! The filmmakers are freed up to turn Crank 2 into a masterpiece of camera gymnastics (the movie, which looks remarkably good, was shot on $700 handheld cameras you can pick up at Best Buy, meaning there's no limit to the way the cameras can move) and dark comedy. When you make it to the end of the film and discover a character's still-living head swimming in a tank and hooked up to tubes, you're hardly surprised. That alone should give you an indication of whether or not you'll want to seek out Crank 2. I can't blame you either way.
It's difficult for me to discuss the merits of the movie without using language that's either very inappropriate or totally politically incorrect. I will say that I like the Crank movies, even when I ought to know better. I also like Crank 2: High Voltage better than its predecessor, because it's even more energetic and inventive and less like any movie I've seen before. It's one of the craziest, most ridiculous and offensive movies ever made -- and I don't necessarily mean that as an insult. Sure, sometimes the film's extremely broad racial stereotyping is offensive, as are slow-motion shots of a horse's penis. They're designed that way. Other scenes merely offend me as a thinking human being, such as a porn star protest (which serves no purpose in the movie other than so the directors can get some porn stars in the mix, because they are 13-year old boys with ADD) or the sex scene between Statham and Smart on a racetrack (in the spirit of outdoing everything from the first film, Neveldine/Taylor even felt it necessary to outdo that awful, awful public sex scene from the first Crank; there is a special place in heaven for good sports like Amy Smart). But offensiveness and things that are terrible are just part of Crank 2's universe, and it wouldn't be the same movie without them. Besides, there's enough to like that you wind up overlooking those elements, and the movie never dwells on any one thing long enough for it to really become bothersome.
I realize that I'm talking a lot about Crank 2 without really talking about Crank 2. I'm not sure what all there is to say; this is the kind of movie that's basically critic-proof. There isn't really a plot. There is zero character development (unless you consider the fact that a character who didn't use to be a stripper is now a stripper to be "character development"). There are jokes that are so far out that they work, but there are also jokes that are unbelievably childish and stupid. If you find yourself hating it (and that's a perfectly reasonable reaction), you're probably not the audience for this movie. I, for one, kind of love it. It feels at once familiar and revolutionary; it's the perfect action movie for a generation of men raised on energy drinks and Xbox. Because I have no use for either, I enjoy it as an action movie for someone who's a little burned out on the same old action movie. It's lightning quick, insanely over-directed and way over the top of what's over the top. I could go on, but I feel like words are a waste at this point. Better you scream at the top of your lungs and then slap yourself in the face. If you thought that was fun, try Crank 2.
Lions Gate's DVD of Crank 2: High Voltage looks and sounds pretty terrific. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is bright and sharp -- it looks great, particularly when you consider how it was photographed. The 5.1 audio track has good presence; it's amped up when it needs to be but still delivers the dialogue clearly (what dialogue there is to deliver clearly; much of the film consists of grunts and shouts and a host of bizarre accents, to the point where even characters speaking English require subtitles). In addition to a second DVD containing a digital copy of the movie (Crank 2, I can take you everywhere!)
Neveldine/Taylor supply a somewhat disappointing commentary track. Because of the nature of their sense of humor, the track is filled with misinformation; it's entirely too sarcastic and jokey and low on actual information on how the movie was shot. I'll admit that I don't usually care all that much about the technical aspects of moviemaking -- particularly on commentary tracks, where I'd rather hear about story and theme and stuff -- but Crank 2 is a movie that I desperately wanted to know more about. Because Neveldine/Taylor shoot in such an unorthodox manner on cameras that are readily available (a giant leap forward in the democratization of filmmaking, though most amateur moviemakers probably can't afford the digital cleanups that Crank 2 underwent), I would have liked them to discuss how sequences were staged and shots were achieved.
Luckily, there's a lot of just that kind of information on the nearly hour-long "Making of Crank 2 featurette (split into two parts, for some reason) that's also included on the disc. After a bit of discussion about how the project came about -- Neveldine/Taylor had no interest in doing a sequel, only relenting after they were allowed to do whatever they wanted (shades of Gremlins 2 -- there's a lot of material covering the cameras and the filmmaking process behind Crank 2 (because the cameras were so small and inexpensive, they bought many and set them up everywhere, not caring if one or more ended up getting destroyed). A shorter featurette, "Take 2," is a montage of all the mistakes that can be spotted in the film -- basically crew members and cameras winding up in various shots. I'll admit that I never noticed any of in the movie (it moves too fast, probably the very reason the mistakes were made in the first place), but I think it's pretty funny that the directors opted to include this feature. It's just about perfect for the guys that made Crank 2.
As much as I like Crank 2: High Voltage, I don't really want to see another movie like it, either from Neveldine/Taylor or from anyone else. I don't think my brain could handle that much movie, and I'm not sure there's anywhere else to go from here. The pair write and direct Crank 2 like giggling dropouts hopped up on Red Bull and raised on action movies, embracing genre convention at the same time as they demolish it. Now that they've made the Crank films, they ought to move on and come up with a new style. Something about the trailers for their latest film, Gamer (made before Crank 2; released after), suggests that they won't.
My head is exploding.
Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy
* Official Site