So one of my unforgiveable hobbies, as it turns out, is to watch films that offer a perspective on the world that is not coincidental with the Everyone Is A Child nonsense coming out of mainstream media’s mouth. And one of the best examples of this is a fun little piece called Crank: High Voltage. Crank: High Voltage is a sequel to Crank, a film I did not really enjoy that much until after I saw Crank: High Voltage. More on that in a moment.
One of the best features of Crank: High Voltage, other than seeming to be inspired by your average episode of The Young Ones, is a score by one Mike Patton. But in order to understand why it is such an awesome score, one must first understand the kind of film that it is. When the original Crank was released, critics derided it as being nothing more than a passive video game. Truth be told, I thought exactly the same thing. But this is the thing: directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were intentionally making what they call a “passive video game”. And in Crank: High Voltage, they decided not only to do it again, but to make it even more blatantly obvious. The opening titles sequence not only resembles a 1980s videogame, so too does the plot (this applies to both films, in fact).
If you have not seen either of the presently-circulating Crank films, it is pretty easy to explain the plot. In both films, we are presented with a hero. Said hero goes by the name of Chev Chelios (Jason Statham). In both films, something is done to him that puts his life in terminal danger, and requires the constant acquisition of a plot device to stave off the effecs of. In Crank, he was injected with an exotic poison that required him to keep his adrenaline level up as much as possible. In Crank: High Voltage, his heart is removed and replaced with an artificial one that requires constant jolts of electricity to keep going. Are you beginning to see what we mean when I say passive videogame? Anyway, Chelios is convinced that a Chinese gangster by the name of Johnny Vang has possession of his real heart, and sets out to chase Vang down. Cue an endless parade of silly effects, silly plot devices, and people hurting each other.
But what stood out to me about the film was the music. Music can often make or break a film. Try to imagine Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Star Wars, or Close Encounters Of The Third Kind without John Williams‘ score music. Try to imagine RoboCop or Conan The Barbarian without Basil Poledouris‘ rousing themes. If you can accomplish those things, then you can imagine Crank: High Voltage without the score music of Mike Patton. Patton‘s score encompasses, blends, and shifts into even more genres or styles than your average Mr. Bungle album. It is great shit. Even the incidental pieces, such as the newscast music, have a certain feel like both Patton and Chelios are just standing there right in front of the viewers, giving them the finger. (“Reports of a second body landing in the Boyle Heights area have yet to be confirmed, and are being treated as the bullshit they most likely are.”)
Two musical themes really stood out to me. The first in the film’s order is heard whilst Chev is making his escape from the makeshift surgery where his heart has been removed. During one shot, a frantic pelt of guitars and drums is heard as Patton makes a dragged-out “woah” sound, kind of like what one might hear people emit whilst riding a rollercoaster. This might sound like an attempt to telegraph to the audience how they are supposed to respond to the onscreen action. It is not. This is for a couple of reasons. One, the point in the shot where the “woah” begins is nothing more than an establishing shot showing Chev walking. Two, the actual music both prior to and at the point where this verbal cue is heard is manic to the point of resembling what I am sure goes through Charlie Sheen‘s head on a constant basis. We hear this verbalisation from Patton several times during the sequence in which Chelios escapes from the initial point where he wakes up. Each time, it somehow manages to perfectly capture what the visuals make me think.
But one of the most awesome parts of the film, and in a sense the score, is the infamous Chevzilla sequence. After finally tracking Johnny Vang (Art Hsu) down and cornering him at a power station, both, for reasons still best known to the directors, metamorphose into giant versions of themselves. Said giant versions slowly, lumberingly proceed to beat the shit out of one another amidst a set consisting of very crudely constructed models, the Humans in which resemble slightly better-made toy soldiers. The whole sequence was intended to visually resemble the old Japanese Gojira (Godzilla) films (remember those?), but in a smart-arse way that is more reminiscent of more recent films like Dai-Nihonjin (Big Man Japan). And it is this smart-arsery that forms the basis of Patton‘s music for this sequence. I myself have never seen any of the original Gojira films, but I get a feeling from Patton‘s cue for the Chevzilla sequence that he has. Which puts him above the deliberate attempt to remake Gojira for American audiences that Roland Emmerich supervised in 1998.
Other great cues populate the score, including a blaxploitation-style theme during one sequence in which Doc Miles’ (Dwight Yokam) secretary/housepet/whatever goes out and poses as a streetwalker in order to find and trap the current possessor of Chelios’ heart, one Poon Dong (David Carradine). Now, I have not seen any films of this genre, but the musical component of the theme in question resembles what I expect I would hear in a similar scene of such a film. Now, for my part, the character in question, how she is shot, and the music combined all sort of repel me rather than make me like the character. But that is hardly unusual. The film sets out on purpose to be as “incorrect” in the political sense as it can be, and a black woman walking the street in order to help catch a heart-thief is no exception. But the music on its own is actually quite enjoyable. Go figure.
Now, there is one character subplot in Crank: High Voltage that is a bit on the nose. In the original Crank, Chelios had one cohort who aided him in tracking down the main antagonist of the piece, a somewhat dense individual by the name of Kaylo (Efren Ramirez). Towards the end of Crank, Kaylo is killed by persons working for said antagonist. In another thumbing of the nose at filmmaking convention, Efren Ramirez appears in Crank: High Voltage as Kaylo’s heretofore unknown twin brother, Venus. Venus fancies himself as a bit of a Kung Fu master (whether Ramirez is as well-trained in martial arts as Statham has demonstrated himself to be is unknown), but he has a bit of a problem that makes carrying oneself as such more than a little difficult. Namely, he has a condition that he calls Full Body Tourette’s. Apparently, this is a bit of an exaggeration of the extent to which Tourette’s Syndrome can affect one’s control over the body, but only by degree compared to really severe cases. But the salient point here is that during confrontations with enemies, Venus will start to violently shake about and make seemingly-incoherent yap-like sounds. During one moment when he crosses paths with one particular annoying individual, they go into an involuntary breakdance together. Yes, there is a musical cue related to Venus’ full-body tics, including this scene.
The film itself, well, you just have to see it to believe it. As I said, the makers reacted to criticism of the first Crank by deciding to show the world what a passive videogame looks like. At ninety-six minutes in length, Crank: High Voltage might seem overly long for a passive videogame, but the thing is, unlike many films that are in receipt of a big deluge of praise, it does not have a single boring second in it. It seems to be a bit of a trademark for the “franchise” (at least, we hope it goes on being one) to have a ridiculous public sex scene that makes one wonder how all of this shit can go down in a city as big and heavily-policed as Los Angeles. You see, in both films, Chev has a girlfriend. In the first film she is portrayed as more than just a bit ditzy, having no idea of the reality of Chev’s profession. In the second, she has become a bit more worldly. Both films show her getting intimate with Chev in places that would embarrass anybody. I do not mean in a restroom or other such out-of-the-way segment of a place like McDonald’s (for instance). I mean right out in the thoroughfare of a public mall or on a horse race track. No, I am not making that up. I am not sure exactly which of the musical cues on the soundtrack album accompany this scene, which probably means they were not quite as memorable as others.
This girlfriend, Eve (Amy Smart), gets picked up by the police whilst Chev runs off to chase the idiot who he believes has his heart. This prompts several shots in which her mug shot is taken and she is subjected to chit-chat from representatives of the local police force. The mug shots are typical of the whole demeanour of the film. She is even seen flipping off the camera in one of these shots, clearly not terribly impressed with the best and finest that the city has to offer. And in the subsequent conversation she has with them, who can blame her? There is another scene in which several beat police attempt to arrest Chelios. During his initial attempt to fight them off, his heart problem saps his strength to the point where he falls to his knees amongst them. Mistake. So whilst the police decide to lay into them with their nightsticks, one of them sees fit to zap him with one of their tasers. A mistake that makes Chelios’ look like farting in time with the wrong note by comparison. This zap with the taser recharges the heart that has been planted in Chelios, and thus he rises up with a “move” and knocks all of the police away from him.
Again, if you had come to me as little as five years ago and told me that Mike Patton was a genius, I would have thought you were smoking crack. But sometime in 2010, I saw Crank: High Voltage, and I was convinced. Actually, I was more convinced by the Fantômas project, and I will talk about that in more detail later, but the score for Crank: High Voltage was a step along that path. A big one.
I have little else of import to say. If you have not already seen Crank: High Voltage, then go and do so. We need more films like it. In a market where we get the same regurgitated, childish shit praised as word from Odin over and over, we need more of Crank: High Voltage and its like like the media market needs increased regulation against consolidation and anti-trust action. If you have already seen the film, and have already received similarly strong impressions from the way the score music complements it, and wonder if the score music is as good without the film, the answer is a big yes. I do not know if they are ever going to get on with making the third Crank film, but if they do, I sincerely hope that they manage to once again retain Mike Patton‘s services in composing the score music.
(By the way, on a more serious note, this entry was composed using a browser extension called ScribeFire. I think they are up to version four. I hate it. I am sick of trying to post a new entry and having it show up as a Page, a Draft, or occasionally an actual journal entry, or in one clusterfukk typical of the open source movement, all three. And I am sick of trying to add tags or categories and getting interrupted by unjustified error messages. If anyone knows a better solution for offline composition, please drop me a line. As much as I am inclined to drop forty dollars on MarsEdit, the fact that the good version only runs on one of my computers makes me hesitant.)