Film Reviews

Crank 2: High Voltage Neveldine/Taylor

Rating - 7/10

My fellow contributor and fellow George, that of the Bookers, recently posted a strong article in derision of the seven’s place as the new universal average on the ten-point scale. Indeed, seven has quickly become a clichéd go-to crutch for when a reviewer’s opinion about any particular work lingers in limbo. It is the hack critic’s “don’t’ know” answer on a standardized test, and should be used sparingly, like a powerful, screen-clearing attack in a frenzied action game that depletes your very life bar every time it is called upon.

(See, in my analogy, the Internet is the action game, and the life bar is a critic’s perceived credibility among the hordes. Oh, Christ. Let’s move on.)

However, what about when the work in question, not the reviewer, is stuck in limbo? That, to me, is the very definition of a seven. Crank 2 is exhibit A in the forthcoming report, “Redefining Critical Hackery: The Seven in the New Millenium.”

To wit: Handing out a six would be to spit in the face of all that Crank 2 gets right. The franchise is the first and best example of the video game movie that has no game to draw upon as source material, but if that game did exist, rather than a full-fledged, $60 triple-A retail product, Crank 2 is more like the expansion pack for last generation’s classic.

And that’s exactly what Jason Statham’s latest feels like. It’s a collection of new levels for the original instead of a new product. It’s Crank 1.65, and to hand out an 8 would ignore this fact. It tries its best to stay true to the original, but hits all the same snags that game expansions usually hit: The narrative isn’t as well written. The villains aren’t as compelling. The levels seem kind of random and don’t really mesh together. The pacing isn’t on par with the original. Still, you’ll play (watch) it because it’s more fun than 75% of the other trash in the genre.

To start, let’s examine the pacing: In Crank, it really felt like Chev would die at any moment if he couldn’t keep his heart pumping, which led to many outrageous methods of boosting adrenaline. In Crank 2, Chev’s got a RoboHeart, complete with battery pack. Ergo, this allows for more downtime, and the film often progresses in a way where Chev engages in a car chase or shootout with enemies (sometimes both), spouts off a few one liners, then zaps himself with some kind of electric shock before moving on to the next scene to keep from being in technical breach of the film’s premise. It manages to feel slower than Crank, though just as spastically filmed.

Another area where Crank Part Deux falters is in its wildly misguided attempt to give us background on Chev. In classic stretch-this-thing-out-to-90-minutes style, we’re treated to a flashback with young Chev on a Maury Povich style show alongside his frazzled mother. The whole thing is very Youtube / fan video in execution, and the film’s attempt to turn “Fuck You, Chelios” into a sort of catchphrase gets old in a hurry. Crank worked because it was stupid ridiculous, but refused to acknowledge it outright. Within the context of the film’s hyper stylized, music video universe, things almost seemed plausible. Crank 2 is way too self-aware, content to shout from the rooftops, “Wasn’t Crank WACKY? Well, check THIS out!”

The frequent callbacks to the original aren’t all bad, mind you. I can’t fault Neveldine/Taylor for crafting a continuation out of the leftover characters they had to work with by the end of Crank. I'm glad someone had the nuts to make a sequel to a trashy, spastic cult action film that assums you've seen the first one. And I’m eternally grateful to them for not a) making a “spiritual sequel” with a whole new cast, b) going the “eight years later” route where Chev’s living a quiet life until he gets sucked back in, or c) making the whole thing one goddamned dream sequence.

The characterization is perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the film. It’s not that any of the performances in Crank were Oscar caliber, but Jose Cantillo’s Verona was just that right kind of cocky, well-dressed gangbanger to be a decent foil for Statham. The baddies in Crank 2 are borderline cartoon characters, which I guess is okay for the franchise, but I’m never going to be fearful for Jason Statham’s life when they put him up against Wile E. Coyote. There are some bright spots on this end, however, as Doc Miles gets more screentime (and arguably the best line in the movie), and Bai Ling’s Ria turns what could have been a bad stereotype into an awesomely hilarious abysmal stereotype.

If Crank 2 were a video game (and it is one, just one you cannot play), perhaps it would be included in a two-game collection with a version of Crank, remastered for the next-gen with shinier textures. Paid video game journalists, those lovable dregs from the Maxim slush pile, would pound away with Dorito-orange fingers about how the inclusion of the original makes it a good buy, but the expansion material (that would be Crank 2) is “all over the place,” “inconsistent,” or “substandard.” Then they’d go back to getting a hard on about the latest Final Fantasy game. I don’t know what you should take away from this, other than to never trust paid video game journalists about anything at all, and to go see Crank 2 immediately, if only because it’s better than anything with the Final Fantasy brand on it.