Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) wakes from a deep sleep feeling terrible. He stumbles around his apartment trying to work out what has happened to him until he notices a DVD with "Fuck You" written on it, and groggily places it into his player. It's a message from gang boss Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo), and it's bad news for Chev: he has been injected with a special Chinese drug that means he will gradually slow down until his heart stops. Why? Because Chev is a professional hitman and his latest hit didn't turn out to Verona's satisfaction so now he wants him out of the picture. But Chev isn't going to take this lying down, and as he smashes up his television in rage he realises the only thing that will keep him alive is if he pumps up his adrenaline levels - then he can hunt down Verona.
Crank was the directorial debut of duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, hailing from the world of advertising, who were also responsible for the script. If computer games can let you escape into a fantasy world where you can act like you would never dream of doing in the real world, then this film is the movie equivalent as Chev rampages across Los Angeles performing outrageous acts and behaving with incredibly bad manners, all in the cause of staying alive. At first Statham doesn't seem to fit the role, sure he can look rough and tough, but his Americanised dialogue belongs in another actor's mouth; yet after about ten minutes you get used to him firing off non-British-sounding slang and you can't imagine anyone else in the part.
And let's not forget the way he bullets around the California streets as if he owns the place, first to seek out someone who knows where Verona is. Before he gets this information, he must phone his doctor (Dwight Yoakam) for advice, but he's not available, spending time with prostitutes in Las Vegas instead, so the frustrated Chev must leave a message with his secretary. All this, even something as mundane as a phone call, is edited to within an inch of its life, all fast cuts, images flying all over the screen and sound effects blaring to give the impression of a story that is not going to slow down, just as its protagonist won't.
In fact, it's so over the top that it's tempting to see Crank as a parody, and there are certainly strong hints that this is not to be taken entirely seriously. When Chev confronts someone who knows where Verona is, he jumps into their swimming pool for a face to face chat, and when the doctor finally gets back to him (where would this film be without mobile phones?), he is told that he needs a shot of synthetic adrenaline to keep him going, a bit like a power up in a game. What this transpires to mean is the gun-toting Statham chased by the police in a hospital wearing a gown (why didn't he leave his underpants on?!) while enjoying a state of sexual arousal due to the adrenaline. Speaking of which, at one point later on Chev shags his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) in a Chinese market to keep his heart beating, in front of a cheering crowd to boot. Unafraid to be ridiculous, the film is a crowd-pleasing headlong plunge into pure action, and far more enjoyable than its high-concept "Speed meets D.O.A." notion might initially indicate. If the sight of Statham headbanging to "Achy Breaky Heart" while in the back of a taxi cab doesn't make you laugh, then this is not the film for you. Music by Paul Haslinger.