Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Crank" fun, "Crank 2" anti-fun

Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
96 min., rated R.
Grade: D +

Numbing. Chaotic. Trashy. Masochistic. That's "Crank 2: High Voltage" in a nutshell for ya. As most sequels are and do, "Crank 2: High Voltage" to the enjoyably insane "Crank" from three years ago isn't really justified and picks up immediately where its predecessor left off. 

Last time we checked, cranky hit man Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) fell from a helicopter, did some skydiving without a parachute, crashed onto a car, and bounced off onto the cement ground. Literally scraped off the street, he's abducted by goons to have a heart-transplant operation, with his beating heart replaced with an artificial battery ticker that requires constant electric charge. Statham coolly reprises his role as the superman adrenaline machine, looking no worse for the wear. He's back to kicking ass and taking names—while using dog collars, high-voltage boxes, anything to jolt his heart—to get his organ back from an ailing Chinese crime boss (an embarrassing David Carradine). But Chev's “race” is less engaging this time around. 

Now is any of this fun you ask? Well, a guy has a shotgun barrel shoved up his rectum. Statham attaches jumper cables to his nipple and tongue. An Asian whore makes a fat man's crotch bleed with a bike. A gangster slices off another's elbow skin. A shot bullet causes a stripper's breast implants to rupture silicone gel. That's in just the first 20 minutes of this rancid mess. 

While "Crank 2" has the same frenetic energy and bent humor as the first movie, this one's a lot seamier, uglier, and a bit of a headache, a bit being generous. To grating effect, all the freakshow caricatures, stereotypes, and tasteless violence belong more in a Rob Zombie grindhouse movie, not a violent live-action cartoon. Sure, anything goes, and it's so over-the-top and amped-up that we know it's not taking itself seriously one bit. So what? The newscast segments with John de Lancie as a smart-mouthed anchor are satirically hilarious. And there's no reason for it, but we get a strangely amusing spoof to the old "Godzilla" movies. A "Saw"-like scene of a man slicing off both of his nipples is less fun and pointless. The sweet Amy Smart returns again as his gal Eve, who's now a stripper. There's less of her around, but she's a good sport in a comparable in-public sex scene from the first movie. This time, the deed is done in a longer series of positions on the horse-race field of Hollywood Park with cheering onlookers in the bleachers. 

The Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor machine (the movie's writer-directors) throws us another high-sprung, speedball video-game exercise, sneering at logic and taking no prisoners. But "Crank 2" has so much contempt for its audience that it takes us prisoner and robs us of much entertainment value. 

Crank (2006)
88 min., rated R. 
Grade: B -

Fast-and-furious filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (calling themselves an abridged Neveldine/Taylor) show off their hyperkinetic, in-your-face school of filmmaking in "Crank," a stylishly lunatic guilty pleasure. 

Jason Statham, with his buzz cut, stubbly good looks, and no-nonsense attitude, practices more cool terminator-badassery. He is cranky and for good reason, playing it to the hilt. Pop quiz, what happens when hit-man hooligan Chev Chelios (Statham) gets poisoned by a thug with “Beijing Cocktail” that gives him one hour to live? One hell of a workout and a bad day, that's what. Especially when his unorthodox doc (Dwight Yoakam) orders him to keep the flow of adrenaline constant on a rampage through L.A. until he finds an antidote (and gets revenge) or he'll die. Amy smart is a ball of ditzy sunniness as Chev's sleepy girlfriend Eve, who helps him keep his heart beating in a scene of great sex...right in public on a Chinatown sidewalk.

This being Neveldine/Taylor's feature debut, they crank up the editing tricks and introduce us to the “roller dolly” jittery-cam (operating their camera on skateboards!), and Crank never stops moving at top speed. The premise is at once stupidly implausible and reckless, but these guys go for it, and if you don't think about it you will too. It's like "Speed" with a fast heart subbing for the fast bus. But if any of it's taken seriously, some casual viewers will be offended by the movie's gleefully anarchic, Guy Ritchie-ish sense of humor. As when Statham throws an Arab cabbie out of his own car, points to him and yells “Al Qaeda!” which results in the driver being beaten by some old ladies. Or when he causes a scene in a hospital, stealing boxes of nasal spray (with epinephrine) and juiced up by defibrillators. Or stealing a cop motorocycle to go for a joyride, bare-assed in his hospital gown. 

Your own heart might stop from tweeking over the unbridled rush of "Crank" that's like a can of blood-pumping Red Bull a.k.a. brainlessly fun overkill. 

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