Socket to me!
Other than cab fare, I wonder what exactly an actress like Amy Smart gets out of appearing in the Crank movies. She’s a beautiful, talented actor (who comes across as fairly intelligent and funny in the few interviews with her I’ve seen) who must have enough professional latitude to opt out of debasing herself and her sex for a quick buck. As in the first film, her character’s function in Crank: High Voltage mainly consists of letting her boyfriend, Chev Chelios, ream her every orifice eight ways from Sunday as she gasps in orgasmic delight, before tossing her aside like a used condom and rushing off in pursuit of the man who stole his heart. (Literally.)1 This time, however, programmers — I mean, directors — Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor also have her parade around nearly nude for most of the film before being sexually assaulted by a grabby lesbian stripper in the back of a squad car.
Once again, Chev (a.k.a. Jason Statham) races around the city collecting power ups throughout the game — er, movie — to keep the battery for his artificial heart revved up and ready for action. These power ups come in the form of various and sundry electric jolts, each (literally and, ostensibly, metaphorically) more shocking than the last. Neveldine and Taylor toil relentlessly under the mistaken impression that being the loudest, most obnoxious, most vulgar kids in the class constitutes rebellion. Heavens, no, fellas. That just makes you tiresome and in desperate need of a corporal thwack across the bums.
Their eagerness to shock and appall their audience is mostly tedious, with the only truly offensive moment a leering indulgence in self-mutilation, as a grandly effervescent Clifton Collins, Jr. — playing a Mexican drug lord with a Pancho Villa mustache from Hell — compels his lieutenant to slice off his own nipples.2
As a member of their target demographic, I know that these things are meant to amuse me. Either I’m supposed to be too jaded to take exception to the unapologetic misogyny and racism (one word: “Cuntonese”), or I’m supposed to delight in the gleeful nunchaku to the groin of political correctness. Apparently it never crossed the gamers-cum-filmmakers’ minds that tawdry, adolescent fantasy should at least be clever if it’s supposed to be funny. I have a theory that may partially mitigate the spectacle of Smart reducing herself to a fetishized fleshpot, even though the immediate effect is still mind-blowing enough that it would give Susan Faludi post-traumatic stress disorder.
For some years, it has been readily apparent that Statham is one of the most malleable marquee men of action on the scene. This isn’t because of his astonishing range as an actor; he really hasn’t ventured too far outside his marketable comfort zone. No, his strength lies in his recognition that he is one of the few leading men who has the god-given gift of being a readymade, fully-posable action figure. His physicality, accent, and phrenological bearing are entirely sublimated to the kinetic whims of the filmmakers with whom he works, almost none of whom have a signature style. Neither does Statham. His face, his body, and his attitude are all the signatures he needs. If all the producers need is a charismatic thug who comports himself with brutish assurance as he’s at pains to endure the slower wits around him, they call in Statham.
His asignatorial presence is a perfect complement to the anonymous hacks that typically hire him to elevate the intensity of their flaccid schlock. Statham is a journeyman star, a regal dockworker going from ship to ship, doing the same thankless, heavy lifting so that the film can deliver the goods, and we can get to see what we paid for. And what we paid to see is an easily identifiable figure that can be slotted into any generic role that requires a bruiser with a receding hairline and English accent to smash some skulls over a bass-boosted soundtrack.
An essential element of Statham’s appeal is that, like the gods of war that dominated the multiplex in the 80s (Sly, Arnie, JCVD), his presence is predicated upon not just his appearance, but the atavism of his action sequences. Frequently shirtless in fisticuff combat or looming into the personal space of those with whom he verbally spars, Statham is a guy that, unlike, say, John Travolta or Nicolas Cage, you honestly believe could kick your ass to Mars if you pissed him off in a pub brawl. His body is a spectacle, but he doesn’t use it, so much as he lets his directors and cinematographers use it. It’s a strategy befitting a former model.3
Let us assume that this is part of Statham’s aesthetic strategy. Let us further assume that our filmmakers are aware of this, and assume that Amy Smart keyed into this as well.4 If Smart is sublimating her physique to the whims of the filmmakers as a conscious attempt to harness her own innate charisma as an action figure — thusly empowering herself as a vessel of projected fantasy — I could perhaps grasp the appeal of such a role to such a woman. Especially since this particular woman has demonstrated considerably more range than Statham, and remains an object of desire in a male context, not her own. In other words, the fantasy is still sick, and while Statham can derive power from it, Smart cannot. It seems that Ms. Faludi will require an EMT after all.
Speaking of EMTs, defibrillator paddles, car batteries, car cigarette lighters, and other induction coils are all landmarks along the path of a film that utilizes a cool blue color scheme and electrical wire motif to convince the audience that it’s sophisticated. Good news, though! This time out, Neveldine and Taylor hired editors who apparently know how to patch together a visually coherent scene, so those of you suffering from congenital motion sickness can leave the Dramamine at home. One or two scenes even qualify as loopily inspired. My favorite is a ‘shroomed-out paean to those old Toho monster mashes, except instead of Godzilla slugging it out with Ghidrah or the Smog Monster, our battlin’ giants are grotesque parodies of Statham and Art Hsu. Another scene (sure to give Cesar Millan night terrors) unearths a surprising gift for physical comedy in Statham, when he bullies two clueless dog owners into juicing him with their poor mongrel’s shock collar. Rawlf!
Remember David Carradine? He’s in here, too. It took a roided-up Uma Thurman two full movies to track and put this guy down. Here, Dwight Yoakam does it in about thirty seconds. Not even.
Neveldine and Taylor don’t know how to use cameos or maintain the pretense of such simpleminded narrative conventions as suspense. To put it mildly, there isn’t any. Will Chev get his heart back? Does it matter? This guy walked away from a hundred-story drop from a helicopter with naught but a mild concussion. Nothing short of a neutron bomb to the jaw is going to kill this guy. Even then, I suppose all the players — er, directors — would have to do is drop another quarter in the slot for Chev’s next 1-up.5
With no pretense toward dramatic tension for me to hold onto, High Voltage left me too lethargic to get all indignant and offended at its Asperger antics. On the cold, rainy day I walked out of the theater, my heart was too heavy with resigned lassitude, knowing that as long as their are films like this in pre-production, there will be women who think they’re owning their sexuality by whoring their dignity out to the lowest bidder and actors from historically marginalized cultures who will engage in the postmodern equivalent of a minstrel show for a jolly dollar. Even I felt a little ill-used. Crank: High Voltage achieves the distinction that marks a true porno: it’s so busy being sleazy that it actually fails to titillate.6
Shocking, isn’t it?
Edited by Adam K.
- Think the last half of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, minus the Kraken and period garb. ↩
- Perhaps as a corollary to the scene where a stripper’s tit implants are punctured by stray bullets, and she dies clutching her gooey, deflating chesticles. Narrative symmetry tastes yummy. ↩
- A recent Reverse Shot article about how Martin Campbell and Daniel Craig reconstructed Bond’s physicality to resexualize it and return the iconic status to the icon made me laugh. I’d been piecing together this review for the last couple weeks, and when I read Andrew Tracy’s otherwise excellent analysis of Casino Royale’s foregrounding of Craig’s pansexual appeal, I snorted, “So what? Jason Statham’s been doing that for years.” ↩
- At this point, I’m three assumes to the wind, which is the equivalent of one metric fart. ↩
- Maybe in the next sequel, Crank: Methane Man, Chev will just do us all a favor and stick his head in a gas oven. Too much to hope for? ↩
- Last question: How does a film with “high voltage” in the title miss a trick like not putting a single AC/DC song in the soundtrack? Is the Aussie hard rock quintet too highbrow for a film where the protagonist ends with his face getting burned to cinders? ↩