Notes on “Crank 2: High Voltage”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

crank_2_wallpaper_1

I think “Crank 2” is better than the original. It may also be one of the best slapstick comedies of recent years. (It suggests Frank Tashlin on speed or “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure” as recounted in pantomime by a ‘roided-out, perpetually masturbating frat boy.) No recent movie is as in touch with the culture or as willing to blow it up for the sake of ridicule, ethnic humor, and dick jokes. Are writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor commenting on the culture or simply running right over it? Is there a difference? Whenever Statham sticks his finger into a light socket or rubs his crotch against an old lady in order to jolt himself into action, we’re reminded of the often crude, mechanistic nature of action movies. It’s not a critique, exactly, but there’s an integrity to the completeness of its submission to base drives and impulses — a submission which itself speaks to the crass character of the culture. Depending on your disposition this kind of thing will seem either dangerously reductive or exhilaratingly savage. But however you take it it’s not simplistic: “Crank 2” is dense, cohesive, and arrhythmic in a way that feels planned out from conception. I imagine that Neveldine/Taylor rely on storyboards or thickly annotated screenplays, because nothing in their movies feels arbitrary, despite the wild-ass nature of the content and presentation. The result is a density of sensation I’d compare, with some hesitation, to certain hip hop records of the late ’80s and early ’90s — “Paul’s Boutique,” for instance. Have movies finally caught up to music, video games, and graphic design in their ability to provide an immersive, collage-like, and mostly non-linear media experience?

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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15 Responses to Notes on “Crank 2: High Voltage”

  1. Sax von Stroheim says:

    Truly a work of genius. I also prefer CRANK 2 to CRANK CLASSIC (and to GAMER which is like the CRANK movies but has a bit more of a point to it). I have’t seen their GHOST RIDER movie yet..

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    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      I heard them in a podcast a while back, and they made it seem like a “Crank 3” was a definite possibility. They also seemed quite proud of “Crank 2.”

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  2. Callowman says:

    Seriously? Sorry to be the Joe Bloggs of this blog, but I found “Crank 2” even less endurable than “Crank”, which was at least novel. Ok, bonus points for surrealism and for fully embracing the concept. “Truly a work of genius”? I can’t even tell if you guys are taking the piss. I’ve never quite been able to get my mind around the kitsch-embracing stance.

    What do you think of “This is 40”? A non sequitur, except the phrase “completeness of its submission to base drives and impulses” suggested it. That seems to be what its critics chiefly accuse it of, you see. I found it pretty true to the middle-aged intact but wildly imperfect family with teenagers experience.

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    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      What did you find unendurable about it? Its crassness? Its too-muchness? I guess those would be valid reactions. I don’t find the movie very kitschy, though. It’s more like “Mad Magazine” on some kind of cocktail mixed up from Red Bull, steroids, and speed. I really think Neveldine/Taylor are doing a lot of interesting things with these movies. They’re taking the Zucker/Abrahams sketch format and bringing it into the age of video games, “Jackass,” Tumblr, and Brazzers. The movie is so full of jokes, references, and attitude that it just about fries your brain. It’s also worth mentioning that they shot most of it on consumer-grade digital cameras, and they got a lot of nutty, inspired shots. It really is like watching a couple of teenage punks filming a giant “fuck you” on their cell phone cameras. I was both amazed and horrified by it.

      I haven’t seen “This is 40.” Aside from a love of juvenile humor, I don’t think Apatow is very similar to Neveldine/Taylor.

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      • Callowman says:

        Sorry for the thread hijack. Obviously the Apatow thing has nothing to do with it. Your phrasing can-openered into an irrelevant section of my brain.

        Re “Crank 2”, it bored me. All your claims about its mercurial inventiveness are no doubt true. However, Jason Statham’s character is not human. He’s more like a vector, a pure force rampaging through a surreal landscape. Who am I supposed to identify with? The hypothetical gamer behind this frozen videogame? This is actually a beef I have with a lot of modernist works, too, that you’re supposed to view them from some sort of abstract, meta perspective. This seems like the same bloodless stuff in postmodern garb. I’m too stupid for it – or not Aspy enough, or insuffiently schooled in POV shooters and race car driving or something, or maybe just not enough of a film buff to instinctively look at it from the filmmaker’s perspective. Or maybe I just ate a bad egg that day. You tempt me to take a second look … but I fear my basic response would be the same. De gustibus & c.

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  3. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    It’s no doubt true that there is no one to identify with in the movie, and I agree that that can sometimes be a downer in postmodern art. But I’m not sure slapstick comedy has ever worked off identification and the suspense generated by it. In movies, this stuff goes back to the Keystone Cops, as well as to gonzo stage shows like “Hellzapoppin'” (later made into a movie). The involvement (the suspense) comes from following along with the action and the gags, like in Looney Tunes. In the case of N/T, I think they’re also trying to comment on the culture, though in a very don’t-give-a-shit, non-judgemental sort of way. I look at their stuff as being similar to blogging — they’re throwing off observations on what they see around them, trying to be novel and shocking, etc. I think that’s why they kind of remind me of Tashlin.

    None of this means you should like it, of course. There’s no doubt it is in many ways an extreme, hard-to-take sort of movie.

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  4. Fenster says:

    I just saw both Crank and Crank 2 in the last few days. Django, too–it’s been quite a thrill ride.

    I experienced the difference between Crank and Crank 2 a little like the difference between Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. In both cases, the filmmakers seemed to realize at some point that whatever tools they were toying with in the original could be amped way, way up in the follow-up. And how do you like them apples?

    Where Evil Dead 2 is concerned I liked them a lot. I wasn’t grabbed as much by Crank 2 but that is probably more about my age and time of life than it is any discernable difference between balls to the wall in 1987 versus today.

    There were things about Crank 2 that I definitely liked. I liked Statham’s single-minded–indeed simple-minded–forward momentum. It put me in mind of Lee Marvin’s Parker in Boorman’s 1976 Point Blank (perhaps this is why Statham was selected to play Parker again in an upcoming adaptation of another of the Parker series by Richard Stark aka Donald Westlake). The 3 Stooges approach to humor was also fun, as it was in the Evil Deads. And it was interesting to see how Neveldine/Taylor techniques for amping up the action in terms of quick cuts, music and saturated colors. Oh, and blood and nudity, too–you can’t have one without the other!

    But my affection for action films has been waning now for at least a decade or two. IMHO the amping up of the action has ended up taking the place of other cinematic virtues I value.

    It is common for action films to paper over incongruities and plot holes with more and more action. It’s a form of prestidigitation. Just when you were about to say “hey, wait a minute, that doesn’t make much sense because . . .”, the film distracts your attention with another gunshot, another explosion, another car chase, and you find that your cognitive abilities have been effectively shut down for the duration since you can’t help but watch, rapt. And then you forget what your problem was.

    Crank 2 took this to a new level. Here, it wasn’t so much the use of high octane action to paper over a plot problem. Hell, there was no real plot to derail. It is more that action needs to be applied, and constantly re-applied, over and over again and faster faster faster just to blind you to the fact that not much is happening worth noting. Just as the Statham character needs more and more adrenaline to mindlessly move forward, so the adrenaline-like pacing of the film renders the viewer similarly mindless. Occasionally, for me at least, the scales fell from the eyes and I found myself incredulous at how ridiculous the action was. A moment later–boom!—I am distracted again.

    Now this could all be part of the ingenuity of the filmmaker’s making a post-modern critical commentary on the movies, and our reaction to them. If so, good job guys. But at some point in time the body needs to return to a normal state, and I will crave a film that invites a more balanced ratio between excitation and thought.

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    • Fenster says:

      oops that’s Point Blank 1967 not ’76. Worth seeing as a transitional noir thriller–well past the dark, stripped down post war stuff but not yet into excessive bang-pow-boom-boom.

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    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      Smart comments. Glad to hear you got something out of the movies. The “Evil Dead”/”Evil Dead 2” comparison is really good. I happen to think “Evil Dead 2” is one of the most influential movies of the last 40 years. Or maybe ever. Maybe we’ll see “Crank 2” in a similar light some day.

      I also think you’re right that “Crank 2” has to keep upping the ante to even maintain momentum. N/T seem to be acknowledging that with the shock-and-go concept behind the movie. The movie is like movie junk food in that respect — but really clever, bravura junk food.

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      • Sax von Stroheim says:

        I forget exactly how Crank 2 begins, but there’s a newscaster (played by Star Trek’s Q) reporting on the ending of Crank 1 and he says something like “That sounds like a load of shit”, which is, I believe, a cue for how we’re supposed to respond to everything that comes afterwards.

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  5. Fenster says:

    Yes, he says the previous days events are (pause with arched eyebrows) “implausible”.

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