Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Writer: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Clifton Collins, Jr., Efren Ramirez, Bai Ling, David Carradine, Dwight Yoakam, Corey Haim, Keone Young, Art Hsu, Julanne Chidi Hill
Running Time: 95 min.
I used to wonder what a film directed by video game auteur Suda51 (No More Heroes) would look like. Then I saw Crank 2: High Voltage and wondered no more. With High Voltage, writer/director team Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have taken the inner workings of your average 14 year-old’s ADD-addled, Mountain Dew-charged, Xbox-and-sex-obsessed mind and uploaded it onto the big screen. Actor Jason Statham is somehow the perfect filter for their madness as he goes around the greater Los Angeles area, trading fisticuffs with thugs and replenishing his ‘health meter’ like a video game beat-em-up come to life.
Neveldine and Taylor have had an interesting rise in the film industry. Their debut was the original Crank, a low-budget effort that made great use of Statham’s trademark snarl and a politically incorrect script. Moviegoers responded to it because of its sheer audacity – like the scene where Statham has sex on a public street corner – and even though it wasn’t a massive hit, a sequel was greenlit. Probably because Neveldine and Taylor know how to make a movie on the cheap: High Voltage was made for $20 million, a paltry sum by Hollywood standards. Inbetween the Crank films the duo turned out the interesting failure Gamer, which took the whole shaky-cam aesthetic to its most nauseating limit, and later saw their reportedly excellent, R-rated screenplay for Jonah Hex turned into the mutilated box office bomb it eventually became.
High Voltage represents Neveldine and Taylor’s signature filmmaking style, back with a vengeance. It’s American pop culture put in a blender and served up raw: you never know when the movie is going to transform into an Atari video game, a talk show parody, or a dream sequence that resembles public access television. The film opens with Jason Statham having his heart removed while a Chinese gangster mocks him and flicks cigarette ashes into Statham’s gaping chest cavity. Later on, Statham escapes from the medical facility (like you had any doubt he would) and kills off the guards, upgrading his weapons along the way in a remarkably video game-like manner.
The rest of the movie proceeds with Statham running on foot, grunting and trash-talking, as he looks for his stolen heart. The screenplay’s gimmick is that Statham’s artificial ticker needs to be charged with electricity every so often or else Statham will drop dead. This leads to scenes like Statham using a police taser on his own tongue. The film’s 90 minute runtime is dedicated solely to seeing if the filmmakers can top themselves every five minutes. Expect outrageous moments like a Latino gangster cutting off his own nipples as a sign of atonement to his boss, Bai Ling’s hooker character being pulverized by a car, and a repeat of the first film’s public shagging. Most likely you’re either in on the joke or you think the whole thing is an affront to decency.
If Crank 2 has one serious flaw, it’s that the movie is so dependent on the first entry. Upon viewing High Voltage I hadn’t seen Crank since it was in theaters all the way back in 2006. The returning characters, frequent references, and flashbacks to the first film were lost on me. I’d suggest watching them back to back if your brain can take it. That’d be one hell of a movie marathon; afterwards you might want to watch that movie that was done in one long camera take, Russian Ark, to give your retinas a rest.
High Voltage has plenty of action – shoot-outs and car crashes occur almost as frequently as the f-bomb – but don’t expect anything jaw-dropping or expertly choreographed. Most of the time the camera shows Jason Statham firing a gun then cuts to someone being shot. Rinse and repeat, and Statham can stand in the middle of a room and not get hit even when eight gangbangers are aiming for him. Oh well, it’s of little consequence – the film is pure superhero fantasy. I’d admittedly like to see Neveldine/Taylor really stretch themselves and film an intricate action sequence, but for Crank 2 the short bursts of violence work. The duo shoots these movies on the cheap and at a rapid pace (31 days of filming) and actually operates the hi-def handheld cameras themselves, even going so far as wear rollerblades to capture Statham as he’s running. Now that’s commitment.
As the film comes to an end, the fate of several lead characters are completely up in the air. You could say it’s a blatant set-up for Crank 3 but at the same time the story is almost besides the point. High Voltage is about attitude – a tribute to Statham’s tough guy persona and a distillation of every pop culture influence rattling around in the directors’ heads. Watch it, enjoy it, feel your brain throb against your skull as you try to keep up with the images onscreen. There’s a cameo from the lead singer of Tool; a scene where Statham and a bad guy turn into giant kaiju monsters and battle like that movie War of the Gargantuas; and another scene where Statham rams a shotgun up a goon’s ass. If you queue this sucker up, I think you know what you’re getting into.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 6/10