'Crank' turns it up to 'silly'

Balanced at the point where conceptual brilliance and pure stupidity meet, "Crank: High Voltage" turns its central character into a living embodiment of the action movie dictum: Never stop moving.

Improbably surviving the airborne plummet at the end of the movie's 2006 predecessor, short-fused hit man Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is faced again with an imminent need for constant excitement, this time owing to a newly installed but flagging artificial heart that can be recharged only by a direct electric shock -- the equivalent of sticking his finger in a light socket. Every time the movie's heedless onrush threatens to let up, Chev gives himself another jolt.

His actual ticker -- what the unrepentant Cockney refers to as his "strawberry tart" -- has been stolen by an organ thieving Chinese gang who intend to transplant it into the body of their aging figurehead, which is just one of the many absurdities writers-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor stack in an ever-shakier pile.

But plausibility is not the point. It's more like the enemy.

The movie thrives on absurdity and outrage, calculating that at some point you'll give in to its gonzo energies and go along for the ride. The frenzied camera work and stuttering editing are matched with a spasmodic score by former "Faith No More" frontman Mike Patton and performances that run the gamut from outlandish to just shy of insane. Characters like Bai Ling's manic, pidgin-spouting prostitute and Clifton Collins Jr.'s Elvis-obsessed gangster don't flirt with caricature so much as they ravish it, overloading stock stereotypes until they explode.

In the midst of all this, Statham is at once intimidating and befuddled, shooting his way out of one situation while walking right into the next. Tongue thrust firmly in cheek, at least when it's not alligator-clamped to a car battery, he plays Chev as a fearsome enforcer with a rock-hard body and brain to match, too tough to die and too dumb to live. He's resilient as a cartoon character and as invincible as an arcade-game avatar.

Adopting a grainy grind-house style that departs from the first film's slickness, Neveldine and Taylor cram their frames with guts and guns, car crashes and gratuitous nudity, pausing only to let Statham crack a quizzical frown before slamming back into the fray. Not everyone has a taste for gun-wielding strippers and Godzilla parodies, but for those who do, "Crank High Voltage" is like a 1,000-volt shot to the heart.