Crank 2: High Voltage
Crank: High Voltage may not match the non-stop action of its predecessor, but what it lacks in adrenalin it makes up for with a sophisticated and hilarious perversity. If the first Crank was about negotiating the inner limits of the body into a sustained chemical high, Crank 2 is about inverting those limits, transforming the body into a hollowed-out machine in need of constant external stimuli. Instead of finding his heart poisoned with a deadly Chinese drug, Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) wakes up to find his 'pump' replaced with a mechanical surrogate. When the artificial heart's generator is destroyed, Chelios must race to find alternative electrical outputs before his body permanently fails. The sequel's brilliant evolution of its founding concept actually fulfills its own video game origins: once literally a body of substance, Chelios has now become a body without substance.
In Crank's hyper hetero framework, this body without substance is also a confrontation with the body's own sexual limits. Indeed, the film's real focus of anxiety is not the lack of a heart in the body but the lack of fantasmatic coherency in the sexual act. The spectacle of bodies rubbing up against each other, made explicit in the film's extended race track sequence, is the literal realisation of sex without substance. Likewise, Amy Smart's character Eve dances in a strip club but with her nipples absurdly covered in black tape, suggesting something fundamentally absent within the heterosexual fantasy.* In a desperate bid to regain this substance (this fantasy framework), the film turns to increasingly extreme sexual behaviour, but in a way that confronts its own heterosexual limit. In one particular scene, the film intercuts between Chelios restarting his heart by using a taser on his body (including on his penis) with Eve being molested by a lesbian in the back seat of a police car. It's as if Chelios can no longer get the necessary rush from heteronormative sexuality anymore, and must desperately restructure his sexual fantasy in order to even function.
Suggesting such a perverse and violent fantasy reorientation, Crank 2 is replete with anal references, violence against women, a hallucinatory love of cock and a conflation of homosexuality with sado-masochism. Efren Ramirez, who played Kaylo in the first film, returns in the sequel as Kaylo's gay twin brother, Venus. But not only is Venus part of a leather wearing, S&M gang, he also has full body tourettes, which lands him in some pretty awkward gay sexual positions. After one such attack, a gangster even remarks to Chelios that "your friend has the gay condition". Homosexuality here is associated with a body without substance, a body needing/out of control, the implication being that this is the same condition Chelios is suffering from.
So it makes sense that one of the first things Chelios does in the film is stick a shotgun up a gangster's ass to retrieve crucial plot details (he leaves it in after he gets the information). And of course the very person Chelios seeks help and advice from is Doc Miles (played by Dwight Yoakam), a character who is constantly associated with anuses. From the scene where Miles rubs ice cubes over his girlfriend's ass, to his watching asses on television, to his answering the phone while taking a shit, the anal references build cumulatively to realise their own excremental substance. As essentially a walking plug/socket, what Chelios needs is a bodily violation extreme enough that it will remind him that he has a body. Or rather, one that will remind him that he has an inner substance that connects to the body (hence the excremental limit).
The opposition of anal violation and heteronormative sexuality achieves a perverse clarity in the scene with the psychiatrist and the paramedic from the first film. In Crank 1, Chelios held a gun to the paramedic's head while ordering him to use a defibrillator (a hint of what Chelios will need in the sequel). Now, with recurring nightmares of a gun pointed to his head, the paramedic visits a female psychiatrist, who tells him that his fears are perfectly normal, that even she would have "shit herself" if someone pointed a gun at her. The psychiatrist then proceeds to aggressively flirt with the paramedic, telling him that he should relieve his anxiety by going to a 'titty bar' and "get some snatch rubbed into his face". Heteronormativity is here framed as a pathetic response to the anxiety of anal violation - a way to deflect the disturbing fact that 'there is no sexual relationship' into a vicarious framework. Both sexual acts may invoke a body without substance, but what differentiates the sado-masochistic sexuality endorsed by the film is that it is open about this lack of substance, and is thus able to attain a more extreme pleasure by embracing violation. Heteronormativity on the other hand still needs the sexual fantasy to delude itself. The perverse pleasure of the film is in rupturing this heteronormative fantasy. At the height of the patient's and psychiatrist's vicarious sexual exchange, the scene is literally violated by a stray bullet which hits the patient in the head and to which the psychiatrist responds by vomiting (and we assume 'shitting herself').
But as much as Chelios is forced to embrace this 'hollowed out' sado-masochism, the film still longs for the sexual fantasmatic substance. This longing and anxiety finds expression in the film's hallucinatory love of cock. In one of the sequel's opening scenes, Chelios is sitting on an operating table while an Asian nurse remarks that he has 'big American cock', and indeed, an attempt to remove the precious organ actually provokes Chelios' escape. But the anxiety about losing his penis continues. Electrical outputs are placed on Chelios' penis even more than other body parts, and there's even one up, close and personal torture scene involving his testicles. When Chelios visits a brothel, we see a prostitute kick a gangster's dick into blood and when Chelios is shown sliding down a rail he slips and hits his nuts, yelling 'cut' in the process. The cock in its fantasmatic phallic form is the thing that ties the body together, the 'quilting point' of meaning. And as the latter scene suggests, the phallus isn't just essential for the image of the body, it's also essential in uniting the film's own rabid, fragmentary, digital form.
The hallucinatory coherency the phallus provides is nowhere more evident than in the film's central sex scene. Set on a racetrack in front of a cheering audience, Chelios and his girlfriend screw in every sexual position possible, less a coital union than a montage of increasingly fragmentary sexual positions. At the scene's climax a band of racing horses leap over them mid-coitus and the camera follows one of the horses' throbbing members in slow motion, the fantasy object par excellence. It's precisely this hallucinatory substance that ties together all the other fragementary positions and gives the sexual act its reality.
The film's ending brings all these elements to a 'head' with Chelios finding himself face to face with Verona from the first film. This time however Verona exists as a decapitated head kept alive and talking by water and electricity - a substance without a body in contrast to Chelios' body without substance. The distinction between the two however is soon rendered moot. Setting himself alight after grabbing hold of high voltage power lines, Chelios' body becomes a flaming hallucinatory object, no longer an object to be ignited but an object that ignites everything else. And with this extreme phallic embodiment Chelios is finally able to fulfill the heterosexual relationship, albeit within a perverse sado-masochistic register. In a fever dream-like state, as his body burns, Chelios hallucinates Eve (in place of Bai Ling's character) alongside the race horse that represented phallus. As he moves in for the kiss, an electronic guitar swells and the couple are framed by rays of sunshine (in reality he is setting Bai Ling's character on fire). Chelios finally fulfills the sexual relationship not just because it has become pure fantasy but because he himself has become the phallic source of the fantasy, the god like creator of it. This extends to the digital medium itself. As his whole body melts in flames and the music reaches a crescendo, Chelios not only ditches the girl but the very medium that gave him fantasmatic consistency. Raising his hands in triumph and then thrusting a one fingered 'fuck you' to the camera and screaming (in pain or pleasure?), his now almost completely computer generated character causes not just the music to distort but the actual film to end. Whereas before Chelios acted as a virtual surrogate for the viewer (if anything we were his substance), here, by addressing/rejecting the camera, he breaks the fantasmatic connection between the viewer and himself, transforming the nature of the film in the process. For just as Chelios approaches the extreme limits of the body, leading to an embodiment of the fantasmatic substance, Crank's digitial medium approaches its own limit - that of a purely autonomous digital video game.
Of course, it's not really the end and the closing credits give way to a bandaged and charred Chelios, his heart back in place but his body beyond all recognition. From body of substance, to body without substance, the film's final minutes suggest that the inevitable sequel will be of a substance without a body.
*The taped nipples have to do with Smart's no nudity clause but their absurd and obvious use can't help but have an aesthetic register. The nipple-as-substance also has its parallel within the film's sado-masochistic sexaulity when a gangster is told by his boss to cut off both his nipples as punishment.
Labels: crank 2