'Crank' finally runs out of adrenaline

Special to The Times

The violent, hyperactive "Crank," starring Jason Statham, aims to be a nonstop videogame of a movie.

First-time writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have backgrounds in stunts and cinematography, so the film promises slick head-busting and more testosterone than Floyd Landis and Marion Jones combined. It delivers nifty action and arterial sprays, but the filmmakers have set themselves the nigh-impossible task of sustaining an adrenaline rush for 83 minutes.

We learn in the first turns of "Crank" that the nattily villainous Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) has slipped rival hit man Chev Chelios (Statham) a designer poison that will kill Chelios if he doesn't keep his adrenaline going. It's one of those Bond-villain death sentences with just enough rope for the antihero to hang the bad guys. While it's fun watching Chelios put on a one-man episode of "Jackass," momentum sags between instances of extreme behavior.

As Chelios zooms along his highway to hell, Neveldine and Taylor empty their handbasket of cinematic tricks. They display visual wit, have fun with pop songs, and shoot much of the film in slightly choppy fast-motion ("under-cranked," get it?).

Statham, veteran of the ambiguously gay (fabulously lethal?) "Transporter" movies, is convincing with his brutally handsome chop-socky. He's a likable presence and his lack of joie de vivre is usually not a detriment in this genre, but apart from some surprisingly lax pacing, it's largely Statham's lack of modulation that prevents "Crank" from living up to its wired potential. Although he has charmed in the past ("The Italian Job"), here his expression runs the gamut from "stony" to "craggy." Cantillo's Verona also fails to hold up his end, projecting less menace than petulance.

Then again, this is a movie in which people ignore annoyances such as hands being lopped off or buttocks getting shot and keep right on fighting (like characters in videogames), so the blame probably isn't all the actors'. If you're at this movie, you're not expecting Shakespeare — or something that makes sense — anyway. Still, while "Crank" has its moments, the line stringing them together isn't wound taut enough.



MPAA rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use

A Lionsgate release. Writers-directors Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor. Producers Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright. Director of photography Adam Biddle. Editor Brian Berdan. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

In general release.

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