Review: Jason Statham's artificial heart brings real heart to Crank: High Voltage

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

I'm not entirely sure that a person can really have room in his brain for more than one movie like Crank, but if I were to choose, I'd suggest Crank: High Voltage over its predecessor.

Where the first one was "just" an exercise in vulgar excess, the second is even more of an assault to the senses, thanks to a science fiction setup that's more fiction than science and the mile-long, inch-deep visual style of directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Interestingly, however, none of that qualifies as a criticism in this particular context, which is why High Voltage is some of the most curiously satisfying fast-food filmmaking you're likely to want to consume.

Despite having fallen hundreds of feet to his death at the end of the previous film, Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) remains alive after Chinese mobsters literally shovel his body off of the asphalt, remove his heart and implant a mechanical one. Escaping only to discover that his heart isn't the only organ scheduled for relocation, Chev sets out to find the guys responsible, in the process crossing paths with ex-girlfriend-turned-stripper Eve (Amy Smart); Venus (Efren Ramirez), the brother of his ex-partner; Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam), who promises to return his heart to its rightful place; and Ria (Bai Ling), a psychotic prostitute whose life he saves.

Unfortunately, the mechanical ticker that's keeping him going requires frequent recharging by virtually any means possible, including jumper cables, shock collars, taser guns and even static electricity, so Chev soon lights up the city with sex and violence as he tries to stay alive long enough to recover his heart and get it back into his chest.

A little bit like Chelios himself, Crank: High Voltage is all muscle and no connective tissue—there's nothing truly substantial or intelligent about his or the movie's forward momentum. Scenes explode out of nowhere and dissolve into nothing just as quickly, almost never with any clear or discernible purpose except for Neveldine and Taylor to exercise some oddball creative impulse. For example, the "explanation" for Chelios' heart looks like a '50s elementary-school filmstrip, and later, a brawl at an electrical plant inexplicably turns into a showdown between Godzilla-style monsters.

That said, because nothing matters except for how outrageous each moment is and how it looks while it's happening, it's hard to examine High Voltage by any serious standard, unless there's an "awesomeness/suckiness" scale for the caffeine levels in Monster energy drinks. This movie practically defines the term "hot mess," but at least it has the integrity to provide the thrill before it makes you feel a little disgusted for watching it—or wanting to, anyway. (While I endorse the film's joyful embrace of the action-movie convention that the hero never, and I mean never, gets hit by bullets, you'll forgive me for covering my eyes when the tattooed gangster slices off his own nipples as an apology for failing his mission.)

As a member of the vocal minority who recommends Tony Scott's Domino as the best example of, or at least the only plot-driven entry in, this subgenre of overwrought, action-filled and style-heavy odyssey, it is nevertheless hard to begrudge Crank: High Voltage any of its excesses, because its heart is in the right place, even if the movie is literally chasing after it the whole time. Neveldine and Taylor are not especially good storytellers, but they don't seem to want to be, which makes this film and its predecessor more experiments or experiences than pieces of entertainment.

Ultimately, Crank: High Voltage is the superior of the two films not because it knows it's a second helping of something that is all empty calories, but because it's simply more than the other one: more stylish, more sexy, more violent. Yes, more offensive too, but for better or worse it's just plain more ridiculous, which not only makes it more excusable, but also makes it more exhilarating.