Probably no film can beat the Paul Walker vehicle Running Scared to the title of most deranged Hollywood action movie of 2006 but Crank gives it a damned good try. It's a berserk adult thrill-ride starring Jason Statham as Chev Chelios, a Los Angeles hitman who wakes up one morning to discover he's been injected with a lethal toxin. The poison works fast and the only thing that counteracts it is adrenalin. To stay alive long enough to find an antidote, discover why he was injected and take revenge on the men responsible, Chelios must constantly keep his heart pounding and his adrenalin pumping.
If the premise of a poisoned man searching for his killers sounds familiar, you might have seen Edmond O'Brien in the 1950 film noir D.O.A. or Dennis Quaid in its 1988 remake. The premise is the only thing Crank steals from D.O.A. though. This is no detective story. Chev already knows who jabbed the needle in his neck - the culprit was thoughtful enough to leave a video confession. The execution is more like Speed on foot. It's about a man who can't slow down. Crank's writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor aren't interested in plotting, their story is just an excuse to unleash their star on an ultra-violent, blackly comic rampage, directed and edited at fever pitch.
And rampage Jason Statham does. There's no pretence that Chev is much of a hero. He cares about his pretty girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) but that's about it. Cops, bystanders, taxi drivers, doctors and hospital patients had all better stay the hell out of his way. Crank has a surprisingly amoral stance for a mainstream film and it will do just about anything to shock its audience, the Chinatown scene being the prime example (don't expect me to spoil the fun). It's not often a multiplex film makes you gasp with surprise.
Neveldine and Taylor's hyperkinetic style works well. Movies made like music videos can be irritating - look at the Charlie's Angels films. This one does a good job of marrying its style to its plot and its theme. Chev Chelios is on a non-stop adrenalin rush and so is the film. The occasional tongue-in-cheek touches, such as following Chev's progress on Google Earth, add to Crank's eccentric flavour.
Statham, allowed to speak with his own accent for once in a Hollywood thriller, shows once again what a hugely effective action hero he is. Chev Chelios should by rights be a repulsive character but Statham somehow makes him sympathetic. Amy Smart is curiously touching as Chev's blonde bimbo girlfriend and Dwight Yoakam is dryly funny as his doctor. The remainder of the cast is mostly made up of OTT Latino villains, all preening and snarling and awaiting their turn to be dispatched.