With an abbreviated and sped up story informed by Rudolph Mate’s 1949 film noir classic D.O.A., Crank is a hard R-rated chase-and-smash movie fixed around Euro action movie magnet Jason Statham (The Transporter) as Chev Chelios, an ill-fated freelance hit man. Chev awakens to find that he has been given a poisonous “Beijing Cocktail” the night before, by Los Angeles criminal kingpin Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo), that will kill him if he lets his adrenal gland slow down.
With only one hour to live regardless of how amped up he can keep himself, Chev keeps his adrenaline pumping in order to hunt down the cocky Verona while finishing off a prior hit assignment against crime honcho Don Kim (Keone Young). Crank noticeably lacks Jason Statham’s signature martial arts moves in favor of vehicle-fueled sequences to keep the audience’s pulse racing. Statham hits his stride since debuting in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and his work here carries a heretofore unseen comic sensibility.
Writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor implement the wealth of mutual experience they gained making digitally shot television commercials to create an irreverent action picture that plays like a big screen version of the video game Grand Theft Auto with off-beat characters doing shocking things. Amy Smart (Starship Troopers) especially adds profane pizzazz as Chev’s loopy but supportive girlfriend Eve.
Eve remains sympathetic to Chev’s peculiar plight even after discovering in the final hour of his life that he is in fact a hired killer and not the video game programmer he claimed to be in the past. If Chev needs an energy boost to stay alive while driving a car, Eve is happy to aid his cause with her own saliva. When Chev needs a little pick-me-up while running through Chinatown in an open-backed hospital gown, Eve takes one for the team in front of hundreds of bystanders to emphasize her devotion and increase Chev’s heart rate.
The unpretentious romantic interplay between the lovers provides a humanistic shelter from Chev’s hyper-kinetic movement. Country musician Dwight Yoakam does a respectable job as Chev’s quirky on-call medical adviser Doc Miles whose plainspoken advice provides essential exposition to the bare bones story line.
For all of his action movie idol status, Jason Statham flirts with the outre ridiculousness built into the script for Crank. You can see him contemplating putting his tongue in his cheek even if he never breaks character to actually do it. Crank is a politically incorrect black comedy that glorifies adrenaline in the same way that practitioners of extreme sports seek out life threatening situations to send the self-produced chemical through their bodies.
It’s a mocking satire of America’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll culture mirrored with its proclivity for a combat mentality of revenge, desperation and death. On a certain level Jason Statham has created his own genre of action movie. He’s shallow, brittle and recklessly graceful, and consequently represents a quality of youth that isn’t yet willing to let the mind do the work instead of the body. MTW