'Crank 2: High Voltage' starts right where the original 'Crank' left off - with double-crossed hitman Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), poisoned by a potent Chinese toxin, falling out of a helicopter, bouncing off a car, and landing in the middle of the road, bleeding out of his eyes.
Of course, this being the turbo-charged, anything goes (even if it doesn't make a lick of sense) world of 'Crank,' Chelios' body is scooped by some Asian gangsters, transported to a filthy operating room and his heart is removed, and then replaced by a plastic model. So, whereas the first film was about Chelios getting poisoned and having to maintain a high level of adrenaline throughout the day, the sequel is about him having to maintain an electrical charge until he finds his heart and gets it replaced (just in time for 'Crank 3,' pithy subtitle forthcoming). Throughout his journey he meets up with a number of characters from the first film while trying to sort out why every gangster in Los Angeles wants to kill him and retrieve his stolen heart. In Joseph Campbell's words, the hero's journey (yeah right).
For those of you who saw the original 'Crank,' it's more of the same, er, cranked up to about a thousand, except with just as little story. Chev must travel around Los Angeles, looking for new ways to get shocked, outrunning (and outgunning) everyone else. If anything, his new adventures are even more outrageous than the first time, and even more offensive. For those who never saw 'Crank,' the writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor throw every flashy music video technique at the screen, regardless of what sticks. In addition, there aren't characters so much as caricatures (sadly, David Carradine, in one of his last on-screen performances, plays a crass Chinese stereotype), and this film, even more so than the first, drifts into a kind of listless surrealism.
Clearly, the filmmakers understand how little story is going around, and they have stretched it to the breaking point. At various times in 'Crank 2' the main storyline diverges into a Toho-style giant monster battle and a 1970's talk show (among other things). While the movie moves along briskly (like a lightning bolt, really), the lack of content is more deeply felt this time around and the movie suffers from a case of the same-old, same-olds. This really is just the first movie, with a larger emphasis on pointless craziness, and by the end of it, the joke feels very, very thin.
Plus, for all the great, crazy-ass stuff they throw on screen that works, there's also a fair amount that doesn't. One character has "full body turrets," which is a joke that goes nowhere, and of course is repeated a thousand times over. Another character, played by Bi Ling, is basically the 21st century version of Short Round from 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' - all screeching and 'me so sorry'. I'm not the morality police here, but even I was a little offended, not by the buckets of blood and tons of nudity, but by the film's out of control racial stereotyping.
Yet for all the pointless tangents, 'Crank 2' is still entertaining. There's really no other way to describe or intellectualize it.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.85:1 aspect ratio) on this 50GB disc is actually fairly stunning, which is sort of a surprise given how the film was put together.
To explain: the directors had to bring 'Crank 2' in on a reduced budget, and they wanted to get all sorts of crazy angles, so their solution was to shoot the movie on consumer grade digital cameras (camcorders, essentially, like the kind you use to document your child's soccer game, ranging from $1000 to $3000). They employed a whole fleet of these cameras, sometimes tossing them between each other to make the shot. If they were wrecked, who cares? It didn't cost them anything.
So, here's the rundown: detail is exceptionally good (as you'd hope), with textures and patterns really standing out; colors are rich and vibrant; skin tones look great; and blacks (what little there are - this baby is shot in the harsh light of day) are deep and dark. Motion looks good for the most part, even when it's super-shaky (there are scenes where the camera is being shaken by the beating of the photographer's heart), although there are a number of technical issues that pop up and try to ruin the fun.
There are instances of aliasing, there are a few jagged edges, and in the 1970's talk show section there seems to be a burnt-out pixel or something (it had me thinking my set had a problem, mercifully that wasn't the case). But honestly, these are minor quibbles that don't detract from the exceptional quality of the image, and can all but be forgiven due to the way they filmed the movie. For what it is and how they shot it, this is outrageously awesome-looking.
Equally awesome is the nearly reference-quality DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless soundtrack. Sit back, turn it up, and have your hair blown back by this wonderful presentation.
With a movie as loud and aggressive as this, in which every edit, camera zoom, and title card carries with it the thunderous woosh that used to be reserved solely for James Cameron movies, it could have been just overwhelmingly noisy. There's a difference between a mix being loud and it being good.
Thankfully, that's not an issue with this mix.
While atmospheric effects like explosions and the crunching of glass pop with dramatic intensity, and the soundtrack chugs healthily along, everything is so well-calibrated in the 7.1 sound field that nothing is shortchanged, and everything is dynamic. Dialogue, which mostly consists of shouting and F-bombs, remains crisp and easy-to-understand in even the most chaotic scenes, and subtle shifts in the soundtrack, like when it goes from the action scene to the Toho-style monster beat down, add another level of fun.
This is a mix that you can invite all your closest friends over for, crank the volume up until it can't go any further, and just listen in awe. If you don't know what kind of movie this is by now, and how a 7.1 really brings that level of nonstop outrageousness to life, then you haven't been paying attention. To briefly recap, 7.1 has rarely been used this muscularly or effectively. Well done, Lionsgate. This is an exemplary track.
Also included in the audio package is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track and subtitles in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
A couple of notes: First off, there is a digital copy included on a separate DVD. Where you'd be watching this, portably and in public, I'm not sure. Try viewing this on a crowded train or airplane and watch people around you pass out from the outrageousness. Also, on the main page of the menu is a sort of widget that has the time, the current temperature, and a "news" ticker that really just relates to other Lionsgate titles. The first time I popped in the disc, part of the ticker was a quote from the High Def Digest review of 'Transporter 3,' (we rock!) declaring its audio mix second-to-none (or something to that affect). Just thought that was funny. Anyway, you can access this feature while you're watching the movie, so if you want to know the time, are curious about the temperature, or are dying to hear something from the latest Lionsgate press release, this is the feature you've been waiting for!
'Crank 2' is an outrageous, in-your-face action movie that keeps things lively and doesn't take itself too seriously. If you're a fan of the first film, you'll probably find this enjoyable, even if the shtick runs a bit thin and there are too many iffy tangents to work as a cohesive whole. Still, you've got to give the directors credit - with a miniscule budget and a small arsenal of consumer-grade digital cameras, they've made a movie more exciting than most Hollywood mega-blockbusters. With exemplary audio and video and a nice collection of special features, this is recommended. As with most rollercoasters, it'll come with some caveats: if you have a known heart condition or are with small children, get out of line now.