Speedy action film is like Speed on ... um, speed
Directed by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam
Perhaps I'm being a bit culturally insensitive, but I've never thought of the British Isles as a source of movie action heroes. Sure, Scotland gave us Bond Man Numero Uno Sean Connery—but even Connery was a bit more of a suave gadget man than a Sylvester Stallone, strip-to-the-waist-and-rip-out-someone's-esophagus type. When I think about the island of Hong Kong, I think of Jackie Chan. When I think about the island of Britain, I think of John Cleese. That's just not a fair fight. But in 2002, London-born tough guy Jason Statham flipped the script, delivering a knockout performance in the dim-witted, but thoroughly entertaining martial arts flick The Transporter.
Now Statham ups his action movie stock-in-trade with the late summer adrenaline-pumper Crank. Statham stars as Chev Chelios (honest, I didn't make that up), a world-weary hitman (aren't they all) who wakes up one morning feeling the effects of a “Beijing Cocktail.” (Hey, I’ve been there, brother.) Seems this mysterious poison will kill our protagonist, if—and here's where the gimmick kicks in—his heart rate drops below a certain level. So long as our boy keeps moving, he stays alive to get his revenge. Cue lots of running, jumping, chasing and fighting as Chev does his best to get revenge on the baddies who served him the lethal drug.
For the average moviegoer, Crank sounds like the ne plus ultra variation on Keanu Reeves' 1994 action classic. I can just see the pitch meeting now: “It's Speed on a ... well, on foot, really.” In truth, however, Crank probably owes a bigger debt of gratitude to Rudolph Maté's 1950 film noir D.O.A. in which businessman Edmond O'Brien is dosed with “luminous poison” (a close cousin to the Beijing Cocktail, I would imagine) and left with only 24 hours to find his killer.
Of course, Edmond O'Brien didn't spend his day racing around on motorbikes, downing energy drinks, shocking himself with a heart defibrillator, shagging his girlfriend in the middle of Chinatown and battling a gangster on a speeding helicopter, all in an effort to feed his adrenaline need.
I suppose you could look at Crank as an outrageous satire of American action films as well as our country's growing need to find more and more extreme (excuse me, “X-treme”) thrills. Statham, demonstrating more humor than he's been allowed to since the days of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels looks like he really wants to turn this into a comedy, laughing at his ridiculous character name and the outrageous situations he's been put in. Sadly, the filmmakers (commercial helmers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) never let their star cut loose all the way. This is especially disappointing in the film's action sequences, which don't quite allow Statham to break out those fine-looking martial arts skills he developed in the Transporter movies. Instead, we get one nonstop chase sequence—like a Red Bull-fueled Run, Lola, Run with more explosions and fewer hot German chicks.
Despite the videogame predictability of it all, Crank is a fun ride. Statham proves, yet again, he's got charm, humor and enough tough-guy cred not to look too stupid riding a motorcycle in a hospital gown. Amy Smart (The Butterfly Effect) has fun as our human dynamo's tagalong, a gleefully naughty girlfriend who’s up for pretty much anything. Country singer Dwight Yoakam (Sling Blade) pops by for another odd but effective cameo as a quirky backstreet doc called in to both patch up our hero and to provide important exposition for the otherwise monosyllabic cast.
With Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan now lining up to collect Social Security, the world is looking for the next great action hero. A bald-headed Brit may seem like an odd choice to fill that overly muscled void, but so long as he keeps pumping out mindless fun like Crank, Jason Statham could just make a run of it.