Three years ago, “Crank” hurtled into theaters as absurdist fun. The taut, lean and gristle-free tale of a poisoned hit man who must keep his heart rate racing used a preposterous premise to concoct a wild, breakneck “D.O.A.” for the devil horns brigade. The sequel, “Crank: High Voltage,” released last weekend, is comparably a corpulent mess. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who in the “Crank” DVD commentary seemed quite pleased with themselves, gorge like stoned college kids at a pizza buffet. No contrivance appears to have been discarded; one can imagine that every wacky idea was met with high fives and fist bumps. This time, Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) has been fixed with an artificial heart and spends the next 96 minutes electrifying himself as he scours Los Angeles for his pilfered organ while the film spends that time searching in vain for the coherence of its predecessor. “Crank: High Voltage” is a potent mix of the good, the bad and the offal.
A cornucopia of extraneous visceral images and self-congratulatory jokes and gestures, “High Voltage“ expresses mood and executes set pieces with less subtlety than the previous film, but what should one expect from a movie helmed by indulgent directors: a high-speed chase is brought to a pause when Chev’s car is blocked by a completely superfluous porn actors’ strike; a strip club shootout ends with a dancer shot in her pneumatic chest, the camera panning repeatedly over her oozing breasts; and a character is afflicted with “Full Body Tourette’s,” which is a gimmick overplayed. In a film in desperate need of felicitous redaction, when a crazed prostitute picks up a dirt bike, she doesn’t thrust it into a baddie’s groin once but over and over until his genitals have been pulverized. “ High Voltage” is littered with racial epithets and vile language as well; there’s a play on words using “Cantonese” that is headshakingly sad in its unfunny pun.
The movie is unrelentingly gratuitous, not morally but aesthetically. The ludicrous and implausible are more than palatable if illustrated with flair but “High Voltage” is so scattershot, so random, with both the camera and story flitting about with such attention deficiency that it begs the question of whether the editing process was completed during an Adderall withdrawal. Cartoonish films ask an audience to suspend disbelief; “Crank“ had you accepting that a dude could leap from a plane, fall from the heavens without a parachute, smack onto the roof of a car, bounce onto the street and survive. Over-the-top, for sure, but the scene was executed with the verve and ingenuity missing from the current incarnation. A sequence used in both films highlights the distinction between the two. In the first film, Chev and his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) engage, for medicinal purposes, in a very public (and funny) sex scene in a bustling Chinatown market. But in “High Voltage” they rut on the finish line of a horse track during a race, in front of thousands of spectators, in a myriad of positions. There’s method acting. Welcome to “meth” directing.
Statham is treated well though by the directing duo as his killer is vivified with more humor and presence than he’s bestowed with in the “Transporter“ series. An Olympic diving hopeful in his youth, Statham, with sandpaper stubble and a South London rasp, has the body of a top-level middleweight, and the face of a slightly less successful one. “High Voltage” is well served by his insistence on doing the vast majority of his own stunts. Amy Smart is plucky in the relatively thankless role of Eve. As El Huron, a vengeful gangster who wishes Chev dead, Clifton Collins Jr., so memorable as the vulnerable Perry Smith in “Capote,“ struts with an outlandish manner that an actor of his pedigree can handle. The likable Efren Ramirez, who played Pedro in “Napoleon Dynamite,” returns as the full-bodied twin brother of his deceased character in the first film. Two other roles are just disconcerting. Geri Halliwell appears in a cameo as Chev’s mother but her part is stuck by Neveldine and Taylor in a completely jarring daytime talk show segue. And David Carradine pops up as an insufferably stereotypical gang warlord.
The film ends with a severely burned Chev receiving a heart transplant from Doc Miles, his dubious delicensed surgeon, played with droll insouciance by Dwight Yoakam. After Miles and Eve leave the converted apartment operating theater believing the surgery was not successful, the camera pans closer to Chev’s bandaged face, only a swath across his eyes visible, and his hand rises and he flips the bird at the camera. Right back at ya.