Please Step Back, Kids, As the Stath Jump-Starts Hisself 

Crank: High Voltage
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Busy bloke, that Jason Statham: he's never toplined a movie with a U.S. gross over $50 million, but he's the face of two pulpy franchises: Luc Besson's delightfully Eurotrashy Transporter movies, and the recently sequelized Crank, from the videogame-addled Neveldine/Taylor (that's how Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are billed as directors; as writers, they get an ampersand for some reason). Crank: High Voltage finds Statham's Chev Chelios where we left him at the end of the last movie: on the pavement following a fall from a helicopter, and near death. But Chev's heart, resilient after fighting off the Chinese poison from the first movie (that could only be combated by adrenaline, natch), beats on — which of course makes him the target of gangsters, who scoop him off the sidewalk, and replace his miracle of nature with a rather less reliable artificial junker.  Which, naturally, needs to be recharged by whatever electrical means necessary as Chelios seeks his revenge.

The first Crank took obvious inspiration from the world of videogames, with its nonstop pacing, pop-up bad guys, and mission-oriented plotting; it was a lot of fun, but occasionally a nasty gamer's misogyny bled through. High Voltage isn't less gamey, nor is it less misogynistic, and it also sidles up closer to racism, what with two of its major Asian characters being played by David Carradine and Bai Ling. But having established their template, Neveldine/Taylor's brazenness plays even closer to comedy this time around, with wry subtitles, talk-show flashbacks, and a Godzilla homage. The fact that I could've done without the shot-in-the-implants gag or the lame newscasting jokes that could come straight out of Family Guy (that's a bad thing, FYI) seems almost the point: the filmmakers are obviously trying to find something even an adrenaline-seeking B-picture junkie can do without.

It's ridiculous fun to watch a movie so in touch with its deranged id, but it occurs to me that the other Stath franchise, the Transporter series, benefits, in an odd way, from its boilerplate B-movie framework; it gives the absurdities a jumping-off point. Crank: High Voltage's jump-off point is the original Crank, which means it has to work harder to go nuttier, disregarding narrative context. Sometimes, to this end, the movie chases its own tail; half the scenes are based on the bad guys and the less-bad guys running into each other more or less by chance, chasing each other, losing each other, and bumping into each other in different combinations a few minutes later, like a particularly violent round of bumper cars. I'd start the countdown webpage for Crank 3 if I felt like the series could go any further over the top. They may have to, as a friend of mine suggested, go to space.

In the meantime, though, High Voltage is held together: by the astonishingly fluid camerawork (apparently the film was shot on one million tiny and extremely disposable digital video cameras, and cut together by a thousand monkeys working at a thousand digital editing bays, or something like that), by the wonderfully deranged sight gags like Chelios gaining power from a police tasering, and of course by Statham himself. He's as hard-boiled-down as ever, maybe more so, glowering and running in a black zip-up sweatshirt, only occasionally letting his simmering rage boil over into animalistic hollering. In this intentionally and gleefully ridiculous surrounding, his businesslike amorality becomes almost witty.

Opens April 17

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