“He was dead But he got better.” If you didn´t like the first Crank, be sure to stay away from Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor´s sequel Crank: High Voltage, which is essentially the same movie. It´s taken up a notch, I suppose: bigger and faster, with more sex and violence, but it also feels less fresh this time around. And make no mistake about it: Crank 2 is trash, but those who can appreciate trash will find a lot to appreciate here.
We pick up right where Crank left off, as Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) falls thousands of feet from a helicopter, bounces off a car, and lands on the street. Still alive, of course, he´s scooped up by the Chinese mafia, who harvest his heart, replace it with a battery-powered one, and keep him alive so they can harvest his other organs (you see, Chev survived the ancient Chinese poison given to him in the first film and his organs are now regarded as superhuman and highly desirable. Or something like that.)
Chev eventually busts out, and now he´s gotta find his old heart; the battery quickly dies on this new one, and he can only be kept alive by occasional jolts of electricity. This leads to such scenes as Chev, crippled by a slowly fading artificial heart, getting a nightstick beatdown by a number of police officers, until one of them decides to taser him; instantly regenerated, he opens up a can of whoop ass.
Along Chev´s journey, he runs across: Asian hooker Ria (Bai Ling), who he saves from an unsatisfied customer; his wife (Amy Smart), who thought he was dead and is now performing in a strip club for boyfriend Randy (Corey Haim, with an impressive mullet); Johnny Vang (Art Hsu), a character baring some resemblance to Takashi Miike´s Ichi the Killer who seems to be carrying around Chev´s heart in a lunchbox; Venus (Efren Ramirez), the Tourette´s-impaired twin brother of a character killed in the last film seeking revenge; Poon Dong (a Charlie Chan-ed David Carradine, in one of his last mainstream roles), who wants Chev´s heart; some Mexican gangsters, including Chico (Joseph Julian Soria), who are chasing down Chev; and their leader, El Huron (Clifton Collins Jr.), who is seeking revenge on Chev for killing his brothers in the previous film. As in Crank, Chev occasionally calls Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam) for advice regarding his unusual situation.
Best scenes: an impromptu, off-the-cuff Godzilla fight between Chev and Johnny Vang, which involves two actors dressed in exaggerated suits that resemble the characters fighting over a miniature electric power plant; a diversion via picketing porn actors on strike (“No! No! We won´t blow!”), which features a number of actual porn stars (including, of course, Ron Jeremy); and a 1980s talk show featuring a young, out-of-control Chev and his mother (played by Geri Halliwell).
Directors Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor have a certain ineptitude when it comes to filmmaking, which they wield as unbridled strength. The action scenes here – and really, the film is just one big action scene – are poorly staged and choreographed and abruptly edited without concern for continuity; we never have a real grasp of what´s going on, where the characters stand in relation to their surroundings. But the film throws everything at you fast and loose, and has this uninterrupted manic energy that almost – almost – replaces the kind of suspense generated by genuine filmmaking skill. You´ll compare the Crank films to Shoot ‘Em Up, and I´ll rate them about the same, but Michael Davis´ film was professionally, inventively staged and shot yet was missing this energy. Can´t have it both ways, I guess, at least in B-movie action fests.
You need to have a certain level of fondness for garbage to appreciate the Crank films; Crank 2 is – and I believe the Lloyd Kaufman cameo confirms it – a tribute to Troma pictures, including the Toxic Avenger films. It´s poorly made, even offensive (particularly in the treatment of women), but ingratiating and eager to please. No fan of the first film will walk away unsatisfied.
An overindulgent take on “Britain´s most famous prisoner”, Nicolas Winding Refn´s Bronson is a striking but strangely aloof film that would have been better served had the director shown a little restraint. It´s a near-parody of Kubrick, and specifically A Clockwork Orange; visually arresting but strangely hollow, as if Refn doesn´t believe in his style. Ultimately, we never really learn much about Charles Bronson (not to be confused with the actor), why he is famous, or what made him a violent criminal.
Charles Bronson (Tom Hardy), a circus strongman in appearance with a bald head and a walrus mustache, narrates his own story from a theater stage in front of a live audience. He was born Michael Petersen in Luton in 1952, and according to the film, was a senselessly violent young boy who grew up to be a senselessly violent man. He has a wife and a kid, but they´re soon forgotten when Petersen robs a post office and is sentenced to prison for 17 years.
And he´ll remain in prison and psychiatric hospitals for much of the remainder of the film (and in real life, he´s still there today), save for a brief episode when he´s paroled, becomes a bare-knuckle boxer, proposes to a girl who rejects him, and takes the name Charles Bronson, after the actor (Charlton Heston was nixed).
But prisons are where he´ll make his mark. He paces in his cage, gets all riled up, waits for the guards to enter and then unleashes a violent fury upon them. Eventually, he starts taking hostages to draw that influx of police that he can unleash upon. And he lubes himself up with paint and grease so he can squirm his way out of their clutches as they try to grab him. This is who Charles Bronson is, a functioning psychopath who waits for society to capture him and then fights back with all his (considerable) might.
There´s a fascinating, gritty story in there. Refn´s film, on the other hand, is an exquisitely styled nightmare, every shot pretty as a picture as Wagner and Verdi highlight the soundtrack. The violence is too stylized to have much of an impact. Isolated shots and scenes are fascinating; put together they come across hollow. Bronson often feels like Kubrick´s Alex, particularly in over-medicated psychiatric hospital scenes. But in painting the character as a symbol Refn loses sight of the fact that he´s also an all-too-real being.
Hardy, however, is a revelation as the titular character, an intensely frightening creation that indeed feels all-too-real. Despite a near-comical appearance. If there´s one thing I´ll take from the film it´s the look and feel of Charles Bronson; we never really get inside his head, but the mere sight of him is arresting.
There´s a lot to admire here, but Bronson pales in comparison to Andrew Dominik´s Chopper, a very similar but harder-hitting film about Australian criminal Mark “Chopper” Read. Also see: Steve McQueen´s (again, not to be confused with the actor) Hunger, about IRA martyr Bobby Sands.
Acceptable but nothing special, The Accidental Husband has a couple of appealing performances from Uma Thurman and Jeffrey Dean Jones and a better cast then you usually find in these films, but otherwise it´s strictly formula fare. I´d call it a disappointment from actor-turned-director Griffin Dunne, but this is likely as good a film as the material will allow. Rom-com fans should enjoy, and it´s harmless enough for others to sit through.
Dr. Emma Lloyd (Thurman) has a radio talk show where she advises callers about their love life; when Sofia (Justina Machado) calls in and professes some doubts about her future husband, Emma gives her some rather firm advice, causing Sofia to call off the wedding. Ex-fiancé and fireman Patrick (Morgan) is understandably upset, and, of course, blames Emma for the breakup. Revenge: his hacker downstairs neighbor ‘marries´ Patrick and Emma with a forged online document. Now when Emma tries to marry nice guy Richard (Colin Firth), the bureaucrats tell her she´s already wed, and she needs to get documents signed by Patrick.
Of course, something like this wouldn´t happen in real life. If it did, a simple phone call should take care of it. At the very least, a high-powered radio talk show host would have her lawyer take care of it. But no, Emma goes to meet Patrick herself as The Accidental Husband hangs its plot around this precariously flimsy premise. I guess every film is allowed one implausibility.
You can see where the film is going from here, as the two mismatched characters start falling for each other. There´s no fun in that, and it´s all formula the rest of the way. Will she choose Mr. Nice-but-boring, who loves her and is willing to let her go, or the blunt New York fireman who sabotaged her relationship? These things rarely work out as they would in reality.
But for about 15 minutes in the middle, the film veers into some mild screwball comedy: Patrick tags along with Emma when she goes cake tasting, and he makes an impression on one of the other customers (Isabella Rossellini), who turns out to be the wife of Richard´s publisher (Keir Dullea). So Patrick stands in for Richard for the benefit of these two characters during a dinner party, which is the one good sequence in the movie.
Otherwise, there´s little new here. Firth is wasted, but Thurman and Morgan (who made an impact as The Comedian in Watchmen earlier this year) have some chemistry together. Sam Shepard shows up as Thurman´s father in scenes that don´t add much, but are just long enough for us to wonder what he´s doing here.
One real minus: the awful soundtrack, which is mostly early-90s stock stuff, the type that you might find on a late-night Cinemax softcore skin flick.
Note: The Accidental Husband was produced by the Yari Film Group, which went bankrupt in 2008 and has left a number of films (including the excellent Nothing But the Truth) under- or un-released. The Accidental Husband premiered in Britain in early 2008 and has slowly rolled out to other countries, but it has yet to be released in the US.