"Crank: High Voltage" replaces old-fashioned adrenaline for jolts of electricity, but otherwise is a more-of-the-same sequel that goes through the paces. As with any continuation, the adage is to make things bigger, louder and pushed to the extreme. Writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, returning from 2006's "Crank
," certainly fulfill this obligation, but their chaotic onslaught of gruesomely violent and graphically sexual exploitation is so ugly and ceaseless this time that it eventually numbs, and then bores, the viewer.
Picking up right where the original left off, professional hitman Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), injected with a deadly Chinese poison that will stop his heart the moment he loses his adrenaline, falls tens of thousands of feet from a helicopter and onto a bustling Los Angeles street. Literally scraped off the pavement by a mob group before the police can arrive at the scene, Chelios wakes three months later to discover that his seemingly unstoppable ticker has been replaced by an artificial heart. Seeking medical advice from the sleazebag Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam), he learns that he will need intermittent electricity running through his body in order to keep him going. With time running out, Chelios sets out to reclaim his real heart from crime lord Johnny Vang (Art Hsu) and track down girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart), who has turned to exotic dancing in the interim.
What made "Crank
" such an unapologetically go-for-broke entertainment were the high stakes involved in Chev Chelios having no choice but to keep his heart racing in order to stay alive. Witnessing the lengths he would go to achieve this was admittedly a lot of fun, even as the film waded in a cesspool of masochism and misogyny. The unnecessary "Crank: High Voltage" lacks this element because, by now, it has more or less been proven that Chev is invincible. Every time he hooks himself up to high-voltage boxes or electricity-fueled dog collars and blasts away, Chev walks off no worse for the wear. In the meantime, he runs into a long line of wacky characters, from prone-to-jealousy Asian prostitute Ria (Bai Ling); to Venus (Efren Ramirez), vengeance-seeking twin brother of the predecessor's ill-fated, flamboyant Kaylo; to redneck Randy (a welcome Corey Haim), Eve's current boyfriend.
Blood, brains, and sliced-off nipples and elbows fly fast and furiously at the screen in a non-stop cavalcade of nasty violence that put most horror films to shame. And for those interested, yes, there is a comparable scene to the one in the first movie where Chelios bangs Eve in public. Here, the deed is done on the stadium field at Hollywood Park amidst bleachers filled with cheering onlookers. The weirdly sweet song used in this montage of increasingly silly sexual positions: "Heard It in a Love Song" by The Marshall Tucker Band. Credit Amy Smart (2008's "Mirrors
") for being such a good sport and not shying away from the nudity requirements of this role, but also feel kind of bad that her character of Eve has been downgraded from cheerfully flighty and full of bubbly energy into a dime-a-dozen love interest with few defining personality traits. The spark that made Eve such a fun gal in the original is sadly not there anymore. This is no fault of Smart's, but of a screenplay by Neveldine and Taylor that is less inventively quirky and more grating, profane and unctuous.
With few spare moments to stop but with an awful lot of plot padding, "Crank: High Voltage" is frenetic, yet rarely exciting. Too many supporting characters, created with the broadest of strokes, come and go without reaching their full capabilities, and the same could be said of Chev Chelios' mission, which doesn't reach a head so much as it just sputters out and then concludes (with hints of another sequel in the wings) over the end credits. Jason Statham (2008's "Transporter 3
") coolly reprises his lead role, staying calm under pressure and unhesitant to blow away any bad guy who steps in his tracks. He's somehow likable in spite of his murderous sideto be fair, he has a right to be angry--and does what he can to carry a film that has become nothing but an R-rated cartoon shot in live-action. "Crank: High Voltage" might go to places "Crank
" didn't dare, but in doing so it has become mean-spirited and unfocused. Why care about the story, writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor seem to believe, when you can just show deadly carnage and the barrel of a machine gun being stuck up a man's rectum.