If Jason Statham is the greatest B-movie action star of our day (and he is), then the "Crank" movies are his showcase. These gonzo, amoral, politically incorrect rides put the ripped, bald and mean Statham through his paces like nothing else in his action repertoire.
And unlike the decline and fall of The Transporter series, the latest Crank shows few signs of slacking off the pace.
We know Chev Chelios died at the end of Crank, plummeting to his death as he pummeled his nemesis mid-fall. In "Crank: High Voltage",Chev has been scooped off the street and kept alive for organ harvest by Chinese doctors working in the back of a Chinatown brothel. Chev (Statham) wakes up post-op, realizes he has an artificial heart and quickly learns from his underworld surgeon pal ( Dwight Yoakam, on his game) that he needs to get his real heart back and that he has about an hour to do it, depending on stops for re-jolting the apparatus in his chest.
Many characters from Crank take a second bow in this blast through a manic hour in L.A.'s strip clubs, brothels, horse tracks and gay bars. Corey Haim is now the bouncer who watches over pole-dancer Eve (Amy Smart, naked again, fearless and hilarious). Kaylo is dead, but his gay brother (Efren Ramirez) who suffers from "full body Tourette's" is here to help Chev. As is the nuttiest, trashiest hooker on the streets, Rai (Bai Ling, taking a stereotype to hysterical extremes).
And Chev needs the help. He has cars to hijack, Latin and Chinese villains to shoot or pound, cops to fend off and a little ice chest that he figures has his heart in it to retrieve.
Cameos pepper this sequel. Porn stars walk a porn star actor's picket line (Ron Jeremy among them) and David Carradine goofs on his Kung Fu miscasting (he's an aged Chinese gang lord). And was that John de Lancie ( Star Trek's Q) as a cynical, profane newscaster?
At every turn, Chev, the British-born hit man who is all but impossible to kill, slaps, stabs, punches and pistol whips everyone who gets in his way. When he sodomizes a hefty villain with a shotgun in an early scene, you can't help but remember how amusingly amoral and over the top the original Crank was. Tarantino and company tried to make a Grindhouse movie. These filmmakers actually did.
Statham was defiantly unapologetic about doing these movies the one time I asked him about them -- "I love those guys!" Those guys being co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, jump-cut kings who chop-chop-chop until the movie jerks to life like Frankenstein's monster getting "the juice." The movie is a cartoon of action, slap-happy captions and subtitles, Looney Toons sound effects and horrific violence. It's the closest thing the movies have ever seen to a video game transformed into a movie. Here's the quest, here's who you have to kill to achieve it, here's your time limit. Gamers should be Crank's biggest fans.
A good idea -- a flashback to Chev's video-game-addicted youth, a violent lad worth interviewing on British tabloid TV, even at 12.
A good idea abandoned -- Chev's English slang, explained in captions, "Strawberry tart" (heart), "sausage Nigels" (figure it out). The film presents the guy as a bigot at war with a world of gay and brown and yellow people. "Mighty white of you" is the one publishable put-down.
It's so amped up that High Voltage suffers its own energy shortage well before the finale. It's also every bit as stupid as it sounds.
But when the book is finally written on the career of Jason Statham it won't be the flashy Guy Ritchie debut (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) or the hard-nosed Bank Job he'll be remembered for. A scowling coiled-spring of an actor, he needs a Crank surrounding him just to keep up.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun