There has always been much talk about the BBFC and its role in censoring cinema, especially in the wake of such controversies as the banning of The Human Centipede 2. In 2009 Crank 2: High Voltage spat upon such 'mature' discussion wading in with a head full of creative swearing, a hastily lubricated shotgun and some less than progressive attitudes towards women. But nevertheless I believe 'Crank 2: High Voltage' to be a standout, underrated oddity of modern cinema. It is violent, sexually graphic, misogynistic, childish, crude, often repulsive and overall about as frenzied and inarticulate as Boris Johnson in a blender. It embodies in one way or another everything that can be morally reprehensible in modern film. So in light of recent unsavoury efforts that show the potential of exploitative cinema to be utter garbage, why is it that Neveldine/Taylor's Crank 2 shows that tastelessness can not only be passingly entertaining, but also great cinema.
So how, you may ask, did two seemingly unhinged windowlickers get given $20 million to make what at least one rather uninhibited reviewer considers to be "the film equivalent of being shot in the groin with a paintball full of f***"? Well if cinematic mavericks Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are to be believed, they weren't only given the money, but also complete creative control over the project to the extent that the studio didn't even look at their script. The result is something that far outweighs the lunacy of their initial 2006 offering, an offering that seemingly held the key to their financiers unconditional trust.
Their debut feature Crank was made on a budget of $12 million. To put such an amount of money in the hands of two first time writer/directors may have been a risk but it was one that paid off, handsomely. By the time the Box-Office closed and the sight of Jason Statham running around Los Angeles with an erection wearing only a hospital smock had left cinema screens entirely, the film was in profit to the tune of $30 million. The critical response was not as bad as one would expect either and the film currently holds a 61% 'fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
What's clear is that Neveldine and Taylor are two very talented men but in which fields their talents lie is a different matter. Beside their astute pitch for an action film (that Statham's Chev Chelios must keep his adrenaline/electrical charge up, the latter of which does take some explaining) I don't think anyone would argue that they are great writers. The Crank films zip along with the entertainingly unfinessed unpredictability of a slinky having a seizure but their efforts external to the series; 'Pathology', 'Gamer' and 'Jonah Hex' have not fared well and were both critically and commercially poorly received. So what is it that makes Crank so very watchable and seemingly such a one off?
Visually Crank 2 is outstanding in many ways if (as is characteristic of the film) extensively uneven. Not only is the mere sight of Statham's scalp crash zooming in and out of the camera as he zips around LA like a deranged athletically gifted psychopath enough to keep me entertained for hours, but the way that things are shot is just so manically creative that the intricacies of the plot (of which there are precious little) and the deep characterisation (see previous appraisal of the plot) fortunately pale in comparison. In order to keep costs low the writer/directors utilised 'prosumer' and consumer camcorders such as the Canon XH-A1 and the Canon HF10 (look them up, they have in the past actually been available on Amazon). Such flexibility allows the directors to put their cameras anywhere (which they subsequently and with no great inhibition proceed to do - sometimes with comically blurred out results) and allows them a much more immediate and flexible range of movement. The camera work is imaginative, often frenzied and all in all perfectly evocative of the film's garish immediacy. The cameras also allow them to implement their patented roller dolly filming technique to create an impressive sense of speed in some of the very well handled chase scenes.
The extremely crisp high-definition footage that principal photography produced was obviously worked on in post-production and its results are impressive. Crank 2's visuals on a purely technical level are some of the best I have seen especially given the rigours of filming outdoors and on the fly. The colours may be incredibly saturated and the ever present sunlight harsh but that is the point. The film is a celebration of brash excess, it takes the leery 12-rated sensibilities of directors like Michael Bay and takes them to their 18-rated logical conclusion. The finished product therefore is something which is in many ways visually stunning. I would hesitate to say that the cinematography on show is beautiful but it is striking and unique, much like the film itself.
The image of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor looking imperiously down on the excesses of modern culture with an astonishingly well lit arch-satirical eyebrow raised may be an attractive one and in the post-Tarantino age in which we live is one which at release did result in some overwhelmingly positive reviews. But alas it is an image that doesn't seem to add up in the wake of their ensuing work. They are great cameramen, arguably good directors (probably in this context only though) and most definitely average writers and I'm not sure that they will ever top what seems to be their magnum opus (however damning that may be). It's endlessly entertaining, fearlessly unique, entirely self-aware and just plain bonkers and for that I still maintain that in spite of (or maybe due to) it's numerous flaws watching Crank 2 is most definitely a worthwhile experience. But is Crank 2 a good film? I for one think that it is but a broader assertion would be hard to call. It seems trapped within the entirely subjective realms of the morally subjective, the ironic, the post and the arch, but one thing I definitely do know is that if Jason Statham invites me to play a nice, innocent game of hide the shotgun, I will, in the most gracious terms possible, decline.