With its combination of fourth-wall-shattering onscreen graphics, self-conscious art direction and camera moves, ADHD editing, incongruous song choices (lowriders blast Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Tears on My Pillow” on their car stereo, for instance), pneumatic nudity and outrageous ultra-violence, “Crank: High Voltage” is, in its own unique way, pure cinema.
Imagine a gonzo collaboration between Jean-Luc Godard, Michael Bay and Tex Avery on a weekend meth binge, and you begin to get an idea of what writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brad Taylor have up their sleeves.
Jason Statham returns as hit man Chev Chelios, a.k.a. the lad who would not die; Statham is to “Crank” what the bus is to “Speed.” In the first movie, he had to keep creating adrenaline to stop a cocktail of toxins from entering his system. This time around, Chev must constantly electrocute himself to keep the artificial heart in his chest beating.
The fact that he’s got a pulse at all comes as something of a shock, since the first “Crank” ends with Chev falling out of a high-flying helicopter, bouncing off a car and landing on the asphalt in downtown L.A. As “High Voltage” starts up, a mysterious black van comes by and scoops up Chev. He wakes up on an operating table, having just had his heart removed by shady doctors working for the triads. When he realizes that the next organ the surgeons plan to harvest is between his legs, Chev blasts his way out of there, and so begins a new chase.
Familiar friends — including Amy Smart as Chev’s girlfriend Eve and Dwight Yoakam as his shady physician — and enemies pop up again, as do some new members of the ensemble, including Clifton Collins Jr. as a crime kingpin with vendetta on his mind, Michael Weston (also appearing in this week’s “State of Play”) as an EMT, David Carradine as a 100-year-old triad lord and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell in flashback as Chev’s mum.
Neveldine/Taylor (as they are credited) take their cues from Chev; as he self-inflicts one jolt after another to keep his heart beating, the filmmakers keep throwing things at the audience, from a picket line of porn stars to gun battles featuring strippers to a graphic self-mutilation. Having to one-up their original 2006 cult hit is no easy feat, but they manage it. (Think they can’t top the public-coitus-in-Chinatown scene? Guess again.)
Admittedly, things begin to drag the tiniest bit towards the end — if one can use the word “drag” to describe a shootout at a Catalina mansion where Latino gang-bangers try to repel an invading army of Uzi-toting exotic dancers and gay African-American bikers. But who besides Chev can handle this much non-stop stimulation?
To call “Crank: High Voltage” sexist, racist or homophobic, incidentally, is to assume that this is a movie about human beings, which it is not. It’s more like a testosterone-soaked, definitely-not-for-children cartoon, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Whether or not you admire what “Crank: High Voltage” is doing, there’s no denying that the movie gives its vision 111 percent. And as films feel more and more like a compromise between the money people and the test audience and, oh yeah, the artist, that counts for a lot.