Crank: High Voltage (2009)
Beneath the crudity and sexism of the Crank film series lies a metaphorical elegance most viewers miss. In the first film, gangsters poison Jason Statham's Chev Chelios. To keep his body alive, he needs to keep giving himself boosts of adrenaline. Many recognized the debt the first Crank owed to violent video games but they failed to notice how Chelios' ailment and his resultant compulsion for excitement perfectly mirrors the dynamic between fanatic and filmmaker within the world of exploitation action films. In a B-movie, boredom is the ultimate enemy and in Crank creators Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor invented a hero for whom boredom literally equals death. If Chelios doesn't entertain us, he's a goner.
With Crank: High Voltage, Chelios is very much alive and well. But while Neveldine/Taylor (as they're credited onscreen) have seemingly created a simple carbon copy of their first film's story – Jason Statham runs wild through the grimy backstreets and seedy underworld of Los Angeles –their entire mission statement, not to mention that ingenious gimmick, has changed significantly. This time around, gangsters steal Chelios' heart and to keep his artificial replacement pumping, he needs to keep giving himself shocks of electricity. Appropriately, then, if Crank was all about keeping its audience excited, High Voltage is all about keeping its audience shocked.
This means the movie is as much an entertainment as a full-on assault: on the audience’s expectations, on cinematic convention, on traditional moviemaking technique, and especially political correctness. There are a lot of jokes in bad tastes, and a few racial and sexual epithets that I certainly don’t approve of. And that’s the point. In a way, that old lady you've seen Statham dry hump in the trailer (in order to create some static electricity and keep himself juiced) and her horrified reaction to his lewd behavior (“He treated me like his hot little whore!”) is the onscreen representation of the voice (hopefully) inside all of us telling us what we’re are witnessing is wrong, wrong, wrong. If you’re horrified by what you’re witnessing, then High Voltage has accomplished its mission.
But even if you don’t care for Neveldine/Taylor’s crude sense of humor, the film’s worth a look for their audacious directorial style. The pair – who are their own camera operators – shot the film on consumer grade digital cameras, freeing them up to experiment with outlandish angles and and rigs (they even developed one that works along the same principle as The Matrix’s Bullet Time contraption, except it only weighs about 50 pounds and Statham can run in it). Because their camera of choice is so cheap to replace, they’re not afraid to imperil it– like, say, by dangling it off the back of a speeding motorcycle – which leads to delightfully unhinged stunt photography.
Their impressive camerawork, which applies a skater video mentality to chase sequences, is blended together with split-screens, still-frames, animation, even a spoof of a Godzilla movie. It looks, sounds, and moves like nothing else in movie theaters and it's bursting with unpredictability. Even though I'd seen the first Crank, thought I knew what to expect from round 2, I was continually surprised by High Voltage. How many sequels can you say that about? How many movies period?
High Voltage may be one giant revelry of juvenilia, crudity, and smut but it is one made free of compromise. It is goofy and silly, exhilarating and glorious. And, most importantly, it's totally shocking.