Videogamers who’ve been itching for “Grand Theft Auto: The Movie” can tide themselves over in the meantime with “Crank,” a down-and-dirty actioner that follows a rugged antihero trying to outrun death by keeping his adrenaline flowing. Doing the same for viewers, however, proves a taller order, and pic’s prescription of killings, car chases and indecent exposure — held together by a chaotic editing scheme only a crackhead could love — doesn’t add up to much more than a few bloody chuckles. Nonetheless, auds with an appetite for low-budget schlock and star Jason Statham should help Lionsgate crank out respectable theatrical and homevid numbers.
For their first feature, writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (whose background in commercials and musicvideos is readily apparent) have cooked up a scenario that crosses the slow-down-and-you-die premise of 1994’s “Speed” with the 1950 film noir “D.O.A.,” in which a dying man sets out to discover who poisoned him.
“Crank” answers that question at the outset, as freelance hit man Chev Chelios (Statham), doubled over in pain, watches a video in which thug Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) taunts him with the news that he’s been injected with a Chinese toxin that will kill him in an hour. On the advice of his doctor (Dwight Yoakam), Chev must stay in constant motion to slow down the poison and hopefully buy enough time to exact revenge — or, even better, find an antidote.
Result is a nonstop rampage through the streets of Los Angeles that more or less plays like “Run Chev Run,” with the assassin leaving a trail of corpses, hijacked vehicles and thousands of dollars’ worth of property damage in his wake. His heart ticking like a time bomb in his chest, Chev lives each moment as if it were his last, in the process learning that nothing gets the blood racing quite like public humiliation.
To that end, the image of Chev riding a cop’s motorcycle in a hospital gown serves as a mere warm-up for the rousingly funny scene where he takes his clueless girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) for a different sort of ride smack in the middle of Chinatown. By that point, it’s clear that pic longs to be a pulpy, disreputable B movie, a desire it signals with a grungy high-def palette and haphazard editing (the press materials proudly trumpet “Crank” as “the ultimate A.D.D. movie”).
From the very first scene, pic’s hyperactive visual style is all over the place, lurching from frenzied p.o.v. tracking shots to four-way split-screen, with every shot seeming to play in fast-forward mode. Yet for all its busyness, “Crank” never develops much momentum, not least because an exploding heart doesn’t carry quite the same stakes as an exploding bus. And as violent as much of it is (Neveldine and Taylor seem to have a particular fondness for mutilated hands), the film doesn’t have the requisite action chops to deliver any memorable fight sequences.
Statham has carried movies (“The Transporter” franchise) and played ruthless killers (“Cellular”) in the past; here, as a roguishly likeable muscleman with a 10 o’clock shadow, he gets to do both. Performance, in which Statham did his own stunts, compels interest, even as one wishes the charismatic Brit thesp better vehicles in the future.
Tech contributions are perhaps deliberately cruddy, while the cartoonish inserts of Chev’s ticker and a pixilated post-credits sequence blatantly underscore pic’s resemblance to a videogame.