Crank: High Voltage

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“Crank: High Voltage,” the ludicrous follow-up to 2006’s ludicrous “Crank,” is even less justified than most sequels, given that its main character died at the end of the first film. On the other hand, these movies — can we call them a “franchise” yet? Yes, I believe we can — this franchise is built on a foundation of gleeful, frenetic implausibility. So what if “Crank” ended with Chev Chelios’ death? How is that relevant?

Once again written and directed by the team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, “Crank: High Voltage” picks up exactly where “Crank” left off. Chev (Jason Statham), a hitman who just spent a day keeping his adrenaline cranked up in order to fight off the poison that had been injected into his heart, has plummeted from a helicopter over Los Angeles, landed on a car, and bounced onto the pavement. Now he is whisked away by Chinese goons who remove his heart and replace it with an artificial one. When he recovers from the surgery, he’s steamed. He wants his heart back, dammit.

The gimmick of the last film was that, in order to keep his ticker ticking, Chev had to keep finding creative ways to boost his adrenaline. Now that his heart is mechanical, it’s only logical that he’ll have to use the mechanical equivalent of adrenaline: electricity. Thus, 90 minutes of Chev rushing around L.A., looking for the guy who took his heart while periodically improvising some means of electrocution to keep himself going. That means attaching jumper cables to his nipples in one instance, rubbing up against an old woman to generate static electricity in another. Whatever it takes, right?

Look, either you buy the premise or you don’t. Neveldine and Taylor go out of their way to remind us that they do NOT mean for this to resemble real life in any way whatsoever. The characters themselves occasionally comment on how implausible it all is, and the opening moments are presented in the style of 8-bit video game graphics. With Chev being required to recharge himself on a regular basis while fighting off enemies, the only thing preventing “Crank: High Voltage” from being a live-action adaptation of a video game is that, well, it’s not based on a video game. But for all intents and purposes, this is a video game, brought to loud, ridiculous life.

Not content to pack their film with wanton violence and deliriously absurd action, the directors have also included over-the-top insulting depictions of Asians, Latinos, gays, and women. Strippers and whores are everywhere; the gays are mincing and wear eyeliner; the Latinos are stereotypical gangbangers; the Asians are so goofy that even their subtitles are in broken English. All of this would be offensive if it were coming from filmmakers who knew how to be offensive — as it is, to be offended would be to give them too much credit. Neveldine and Taylor are two men who are clearly still in the juvenile phase of obsession with genitals, breasts, and buttocks. I lost count of how many male characters suffered crotch trauma. I do remember the guy Chev sodomized with a gun, though, and the poor fellow who was forced to slice off his own nipples.

Several actors from the first film reappear, including Amy Smart as Chev’s girlfriend and Dwight Yoakam as his dangerously unqualified doctor. Bai Ling turns up as a clingy Asian whore; David Carradine appears under outlandish old-age makeup; Corey Haim plays a mullet-wearing strip-club owner; and when Chev runs into a picket line of striking porn workers, apropos of nothing, I do believe there are some actual porn stars involved. Why not, right?

High-strung though it is, the film doesn’t know when to quit. It’s around the 70-minute mark that you think, “OK, that’s about enough”; then the story continues for another 20 minutes. But give ’em credit for maintaining a lively pace and for finding an almost endless variety of ways to keep things visually interesting. You’re liable to watch the whole thing with an expression of bafflement on your face, surprised, delighted, and alarmed by what you’re seeing.

Note: Contrary to regular industry practice, this film was not screened for critics before opening.

B (1 hr., 36 min.; R, pervasive harsh profanity, abundant nudity, some graphic sexuality, a lot of graphic violence.)

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