Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the duo who wrote and directed the original "Crank" (2006), are up to more audacious antics in "Crank: High Voltage" (**** out of ****) with agile Jason Statham and sexy Amy Smart reprising their roles as Chev Chelios and Eve Lyndon in the new supercharged sequel that surpasses its pulverizing predecessor. Neveldine and Taylor never received enough kudos for the first "Crank." Although its premise had been done before in "D.O.A."(1950) with Edmund O'Brien and the 1988 "D.O.A." remake starring Dennis Quaid, the difference is that the dying man in "Crank" can survive if he doesn't slow long enough for the toxin to destroy his system. The artistry of Neveldine and Taylor lies in their hopped up depiction of these frenzied, far-fetched events. A sense of vertigo seems to overwhelm you because they present everything either from the hero's perspective or what it would feel like if you were nearby him. Reportedly, these guys lensed much of the action on rollerblades while they clung to a variety of vehicles that our hero commandeered.

Shunning the suspension of disbelief in blatant fashion, Neveldine and Taylor allowed their "Crank" hero to perform feats no ordinary mortal could survive. Similarly, in virtually every scene of "Crank: High Voltage," they thumb their noses at credibility. Nobody, except Superman or Wile E. Coyote, could walk away from some of the stuff that happens to Chev Chelios. Like any superior sequel, "Crank: High Voltage" amps up the action. This time around the villains don't poison the hero. Instead, they harvest his heart and leave him with a battery-powered artificial ticker. The hero's doctor advises him to relax, but headstrong Chev Chelios refuses to relax until he recovers his heart. This outlandish, hyperkinetic thriller plunges our indestructible protagonist into one dangerous predicament after another as he searches for the dastards who pilfered his heart. Meanwhile, he manages to keep himself alive with periodic jolts to the battery attached to his artificial heart.

"Crank: High Voltage" opens where "Crank" closed. You don't have to know anything about the original, because Neveldine and Taylor refer visually back to it when they link the two movies. "Crank" concluded when our intrepid hero caught up with the adversary who had injected him with a fatal poison. The hero and villain are swapping blows aboard a helicopter while it flies over Los Angeles. During their ferocious fracas, both combatants topple out of the chopper. Chev plummets like Wile E. Coyote, crashes into an automobile, bounces off it, and then slams into the street apparently dead. Chev created such a media sensation while he ran amok that an elderly Asian gangster, Poon Dong (David Carradine of "Kill Bill"), has designs on his heart because it is so resilient. No sooner has Chev smacked the asphalt in "Crank: High Voltage" than a Triad crew of Chinese medics scrape him off the pavement with a snow shovel and haul his hulk off to a hidden hospital to harvest his heart.

During his post-operation, recovery stage, with the new heart thumping away in his chest, Chev learns to his horror that these scoundrels are scheming to remove his abundant genitalia. Erupting into action, our hero steals some clothes and calls his dependable but unethical medical genius, Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam of "Sling Blade"), who assures Chev that he can re-implant his heart. Doc Miles explains that the battery charging the replacement heart will last only an hour or so. Meaning, Chev must electrocute himself periodically to keep the gizmo ticking. For example, he winds up wielding a stun gun on himself, attaching himself to a car battery, poking his finger into a car cigarette lighter, and buckling an electronic dog collar around his neck. Aside from electrocuting himself, Chev's falls back occasionally on static electricity generated by friction, primarily by rubbing up against people. Thus begins our hero's new rampage, every bit as frantic as the original "Crank," to track down the villains. Everywhere Chev Chelios goes, he has to zap himself to maintain his maniac energy levels.

Neveldine and Taylor are basically rehashing "Crank," but our hero has a different motivation. Chev's new deadline is based on the battery that powers the artificial heart along with his desperation to reclaim his old heart. Just as he collided with an oddball collection of characters in "Crank," he encounters some even bigger oddballs in "Crank: High Voltage." The brother of Chev's friend Kaylo, Venus (Efren Ramirez), has a grudge to settle with the Triad villains because they murdered his brother. Yes, Ramirez played Kaylo in "Crank," but Venus is even weirder. Venus suffers from full body Tourette's disease so no matter what he is doing, he may start dancing around hysterically without warning as if he were an elliptic. Another character that helps our hero is a lunatic hooker, Ria (Bai Ling of "Southland Tales"), who Chev discovers while chasing Triad gunman Johnny Vang. Vang (Art Hsu) is the goon that Chev saw leaving the clinic with his heart in a locked cooler. Chev also runs into just about everybody that he tangled with in "Crank," including his savior, Dom Kim, the high-ranking criminal whose life he spared. The surprises really culminate when he comes face to face with Ricky Verona, the thug that he fell out of the helicopter with him in the beginning!

Make no mistake, "Crank: High Voltage" isn't for everybody. This rude, crude, lewd, R-rated, adrenalin-laced exercise in gratuitous cartoon sex and violence with bizarre characters is bound to offend anybody who embraces political correctness and non-sexist thinking. Nevertheless, Neveldine and Taylor's inspired, roller-coaster depiction of these preposterous events will keep you laughing with every careening twist and turn that this B-movie plot takes. The homage to "Godzilla" movies during a body kicking showdown at a power plant is the high point of "Crank: High Voltage."

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