If you can ignore the racism, sexism, homophobia and narrative indifference, 'Crank' might be fun
Written (I use the phrase lightly) and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, "Crank" has the streamlined, nonsensical plot of a dozen B-movies. Hitman Chev Chelios (Jason Statham, somehow retaining some measure of dignity) wakes up one morning with what he figures is an awful hangover. Thanks to a helpful phone call from a psychotic mobster (Jose Pablo Cantillo), he learns that he's been poisoned, given some "Chinese synthetic s***." He's only got an hour to live, or so the mobster tells him. Unfortunately, the "Beijing cocktail" proves to be the stupidest way to commit a murder since some other Asian mobsters attempted to put snakes on a plane. It turns out that Chev can survive as long as he keeps his heart rate at hummingbird level. Thus, by taking medicinal cocaine, downing energy drinks and performing oodles of dangerous stunts, Chev is able to go about the business of seeking revenge on the guys who killed him.
Aiding and abetting this "D.O.A." rip-off are Chev's cross-dressing pal Kaylo (Efren Ramirez), his sunny, naive girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) and helpful quack Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam).
If you stopped and thought for a second about any of the plot mechanics, they'd probably seem foolish, but Neveldine and Taylor wouldn't dare let that happen. "Crank" comes far closer than any video game adaptation to simulating the experience of being inside a "Doom" or "Grand Theft Auto." The directors, who also serve as camera operators, don't miss a trick in getting viewers inside Chev's skin, sometimes literally. On one hand, they go for intimacy, sometimes perching the camera practically on Statham's shoulder, giving that first-person shooter POV and whether he's in a muscle car on zooming along on a motorcycle, the camera has impressive access. The directors also toss in freeze-frames, split-screens, satellite views (helpfully sponsored by Google Maps) and all manner of other affectations.
Ultimately, "Crank" boils down to 83 minutes of Anglo Avenger Chev making his way through Los Angeles' ethnic neighborhoods dispatching evil minorities. He kills African Americans. He kills Latinos. He kills Asians. Granted that the movie can't be taken seriously, its cavalier racism is shocking. In 2006, it's rare to see a movie depict Los Angeles' diversity as something to be feared, but "Crank" also has problems with sexuality, as Ramirez's Kaylo is so mincingly stereotypical he makes the actor's "Napoleon Dynamite" Pedro caricature look progressive. The film's women are also an assortment of bimbos, strippers and whores with the exception of Smart's Eve and even she's reduced to being Chev's sexual plaything in short order, providing him with drive-by blow jobs and even a public rape that's played for comic effect. It's one thing to be willfully stupid, but this is a movie with an offensive level of idiocy.
And yet, for the film's target demographic -- most of whom should be too young to see the movie anyway -- none of that stuff will matter. They'll laugh at Chev's inappropriate boners, draw breath when the hero dangles from a helicopter and cheer when he shoots a parrot.
The whole thing unavoidably becomes monotonous and despite the life-of-death stakes, it's too cartoonish for there to be any tension. It's one thing to make an "anything goes" action movie, but it turns out that when "everything goes," it's just annoying.