“D.O.A.” meets “The Transporter” via “Speed” in this energetic but utterly brainless and ultimately pretty boring piece of testosterone moviemaking, which is snazzy but vacuous, the cinematic equivalent of a fast-food meal with thousands of calories but precious little nutrition. The basic plot is a repeat of the 1950 Edmond O’Brien film noir, in which a man poisoned by a villain tries desperately to track down the perpetrator–and perhaps an antidote–before succumbing. But as one might predict from its rather heavyweight, lethargic star, the original 1950 “D.O.A.” (as opposed to the dreadful 1988 remake with Dennis Quaid) moved pretty deliberately; this time around the potentially doomed hero is played by Jason Statham, used here by writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor as he’s been in the past by Guy Ritchie and Corey Yuen (via Luc Besson), as a speedster: the hook is that the poison will kill him unless he keeps his adrenaline level up through nonstop action or injections of pharmaceuticals.
The result is a picture that starts at a sprint and then revs up, a succession of slam-bang action sequences–shoot-outs, chases, fistfights, and so on–complemented, if that’s the right word, by a few episodes in which our hero Chev Chelios (Statham) gets it on with his dippy girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart)–another way of keeping up that adrenaline count–and slowed down only at those inevitable moments when Chev’s energy plummets. (This happens periodically, just at those moments when he most needs his faculties acute. It’s reminiscent of the way Keanu Reeves’s trick knee always went out just as he was about to catch Patrick Swayze in “Point Blank.” The similarity’s accentuated by the fact that this movie, like that one, has a scene in which a couple of characters find themselves falling from an aircraft without a parachute.)
In terms of narrative there’s not much more to say about “Crank.” One high-speed sequence just tumbles upon another, and there’s plenty of blood, gore and even mutilation to satisfy even the most sanguinary viewer. The eighty-minute melee could, it must be said, be better directed: Neveldine and Taylor have obviously studied “The Transporter” and other pictures of its ilk closely, and try to duplicate their level of speed and precision; but the result lacks the ultimate degree of polish, coming across as scrappy where it should be slick. A movie like this is mostly a matter of visual impact, and in that respect it’s barely adequate and surely not inspired. The stunt work is fine, the cinematography of Adam Biddle okay, and Brian Berdan’s editing energetic; but in no respects are they top-drawer. The background score also disappoints, using old pop tunes to comment lamely on what’s happening.
Still, an adrenaline rush had better be all you’re looking for in going to “Crank,” because certainly none of the characters are at all sympathetic. Chev is a mob hit-man who seems oblivious to everybody but Eve and his killer colleagues; he shoves aside anyone who gets in his way, wrecks property with abandon, and is willing to sacrifice even his “friends” to serve his own purposes. (One of his most tasteless acts is to dispose of a middle-eastern taxi driver by pointing him out as “al-Quaeda” and letting bystanders take care of the poor guy. In another instance he waylays a stretcher in a hospital hallway and mistreats the patient on it. And he seems distinctly unconcerned when one of his snitches, a girly-man called Kaylo played by Efren Ramirez, is offed in a particularly brutal way; he even uses the corpse as a shield.) And despite an attempt at one point to make him seem a changed man, Statham never manages to give him any shading or nuance. (Watching him run amuck wearing a hospital gown that regularly reveals his naked backside certainly isn’t much fun, either.) Smart makes Eve seem a truly dumb blonde, but doesn’t offer much else (a scene in which she and Chev make out on a busy sideways is more embarrassing than amusing). Jose Pablo Cantillo and Carlos Sanz make thoroughly rote bad guys as the poisoner and Chev’s traitorous boss, and Ramirez is way over the top as the doomed Kaylo. But Dwight Yoakam manages to bring a welcome bit of calm as the cynical doctor who helps Chelios as best he can.
So there’s a second-hand, second-rate quality to “Crank,” but some viewers–in particular the arrested-development guys whose fingers are normally attached to video game controls and can’t seem to get enough of mindless, blood-soaked visceral thrills–may give it a pass. The advice from this corner is to pass it by entirely.