I always say I want movies to make less sense. They’re not real life. Following the guidelines of reality inhibits creativity in a medium where everything should be possible. Neveldine and Taylor heard me and Crank: High Voltage must be the Citizen Kane of celebrating not making sense. The Crank movies begin with a high concept premise but even still go extreme to the point it becomes a kaiju movies with guys in rubber suits fighting, only it’s a rubber Jason Statham suit vs. a wolfman.
In Crank, Chev Chelios (Statham) was poisoned and had to keep his adrenaline up to fight the poison. Over the course of 90 minutes, his methods escalated to the point where it ended with him free falling out a plane with no parachute. He still didn’t die, as he hit the ground and blinked. In Crank: High Voltage, gangsters steel Chelios’s magnificent heart and replace it with an electric heart. So Chelios has to keep it charged up by electrocuting himself until he can recover his own “pumper.”
That’s a good extrapolation on the original. It gives the sequel an entirely new hook, but in the same format as the original. Now Chelios doesn’t just need adrenaline, he needs to find actual electricity. That begins as basically as car batteries and escalates to sticking his tongue in a limo’s cigarette lighter and Chelios gets increasingly desperate as he’ll take whatever power is readily available.
Of course, my favorite moments of Crank: High Voltage are where the film completely takes a break from the narrative. There’s the diversion into kaiju territory, loosely explained as a trippy fantasy of the fight that’s actually happening. I prefer to believe they just literally became a kaiju movie for a minute. There’s the flashback presented as young Chelios and his mom (Geri Halliwell) on a talk show getting scolded for his truant behavior. There’s the return of Glenn Howerton’s minor character from Crank to both pay homage to nameless characters and utterly condemn him.
It really seems like being granted a sequel empowered Neveldine and Taylor to dismiss even the pretense of appealing to mainstream. Crank was pretty crazy but could probably still be sold to the Transporter crowd. High Voltage has no interest in even visiting a mainstream box let alone fitting into one. It mixes so many different styles that Oliver Stone’s editor on Natural Born Killers would probably have a seizure.
It begins with 8-bit video game graphics recounting the plot of Crank. Throughout the movie it goes to Google maps, photo montages, kaleidoscope images and more hyperactive techniques all chopped together in the edit. Yet it’s all coherent. You can follow along these random techniques more than any of Paul Greengrass’s edted action sequences. Neveldine and Taylor famously like to roller blade with the camera, and it surely helps that High Voltage has Brandon Trost as cinematographer, so all the shots are well composed no matter how fleeting.
The headbanging metal score by Faith No More’s Mike Patton gives the movie a relentless propulsion through every whim Neveldine and Taylor cram into it. If Bill and Ted took time out of their adventures to air guitar, if Beavis and Butt-Head ignored their teachers to bang their heads, the score to Crank: High Voltage is like Ritalin incarnate.
The anarchy of Crank: High Voltage is like a Troma movie but with a polish and skill set Troma could never pull off. I used to love Troma, until Lloyd Kaufman, who cameos in this, jumped to Harry Knowles’ defense without even considering the women Knowles assaulted, but there’s still an amateurish glee to Troma movies. Yes, it’s stuff Hollywood would never dare try, but also lacks the competence you get with Hollywood. Neveldine and Taylor have the Hollywood skills. They just use them to stimulate chaos.
As such they also attempt to break every taboo. This film celebrates racism, homophobia, misogyny, bad taste and more. There are certainly movies where these are cheap tactics to be provocative. For an example of that, see Officer Downe which Neveldine also produced. This is where not making sense works in Crank’s favor. In a world where you’re literally trying to break every rule, moral rules are included. Full Body Tourette’s sounds like something 12-year-olds would think is funny, but it’s so absurd it’s hard to take it as mocking of a real disability.
The sexual aggression and violence towards women is a bit trickier. Amy Smart seems game to perform outrageous public sex acts at the Hollywood Park race track with horses and jockeys surrounding her, as well as getting groped and manhandled throughout.
Bai Ling honestly seems like she’s having a Tuesday. She’s throwing herself at Chelios and in return getting hit by a car and in the end burned to death by Chelios’s fiery embrace. That’s not the way to treat human beings, but if you’re going to be in a Crank movie you might as well go down in flames, literally.
Statham is game for everything Neveldine and Taylor throw at him too. I suppose none of this could possibly harm Statham’s bad boy image. He can go from this to a safer mainstream blockbuster or mid-budget action movie, but when he’s in Crank he’s here to play. This movie literally ends with Statham on fire giving the audience the finger.
For a movie so catered to my desire for movies to make less sense, and as a sequel at that, I didn’t even see Crank: High Voltage in theaters 10 years ago. They didn’t screen it for press, probably rightly concerned that 90% of my colleagues would not be as open to it as I was. I must’ve been busy covering forgettable studio fare while Crank: High Voltage played and I didn’t see it until Blu-ray. I’d always wanted to get a proper review on record, so now the 10th anniversary is my opportunity, even if I am a few days late. Something tells me Crank: High Voltage isn’t a stickler for exact dates.
Neveldine and Taylor would only direct one more film together, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. They were supposed to do Jonah Hex and we can only imagine how much more awesome their version would have been. Taylor has gone on to create Syfy’s Happy and direct Mom and Dad. Neveldine also produces and directed The Vatican Tapes. Crank: High Voltage is definitely the peak of their collaboration. Each one has been ambitious in its own way, but High Voltage is the convergence of technique, absurdity and anarchy.
There should be a Crank 3. It would be different since it’s already been 10 years and it was only three between the first two. Find a third way Chelios has to stay energized, and now they don’t even need to roller blade. They can shoot it on their phones like Steven Soderbergh does. If Crank can only be a duology though, Crank: High Voltage is the definitive statement about how magnificently reckless a movie can be and still work.