Movies that have no redeeming social value may be inundated with charges of poisoning the culture: a valid argument. But critics usually offer such films an escape clause, based on a simple standard. Does a given movie fulfill its promise to the audience, in terms of violent action, sexiness, novelty, and/or humor? If a movie is prepared to their taste, some critics will abide stupidity or at least recognize the audience's appetite for dumb fun.
Crank almost has enough of the right stuff to get a pass, but not quite. Jason Statham (The Transporter) plays Chev Chelios, a pro hitman who wakes up to discover that he's been marked for death by a rival. Injected with a Chinese poison, Chev is supposed to die within the hour, but he learns from his doctor (Dwight Yoakam!) that he can slow the poison by keeping his heart rate up and producing adrenaline. Oookay.
Naturally, "Chevy" takes this Speedy premise as an excuse to drive fast, brawl, murder, guzzle Red Bulls, snort medicinal-use cocaine, shoot up an overdose of epinephrine, and give his girlfriend the high hard one on a crowded Chinatown street. And since the title D.O.A. was already taken (by two movies with the same dead-man-on-a-revenge-kick plot), we get...Crank.
Writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor tell their tale in a hyperbolic comic-book style even more extreme than that of Wayne Kramer's Running Scared: it's as hyper and realistic as a Road Runner cartoon. POV shots, C.S.I. zoom-ins to Chev's pounding heart, extreme angles, liberal use of split screen, and adrenalized, skip-frame editing contribute to the action-movie-on-crank vibe. It's a "ride movie"—an undiluted action-chase pic that crowd-pleases with its trashy, audacious, nasty-as-it-wants-to-be 'tude.
It's also a movie for hooligans, and do we really want to encourage them? Crank embraces suspicion of everyone who's not a kick-ass white male: women, who are painted as ditsy sex toys (Amy Smart plays Chevy's hot girlfriend, who worries about a lost purse during a firefight); Latinos, Asians, and African Americans (in need of a bit of the ultraviolence, Chev announces, "I'm gonna kick some black ass"); and gays, represented by a friendly—but mincing and helpless—drag queen (Efren Ramirez of Napoleon Dynamite) destined to be a victim of violence.
Aside from Speed-meets-D.O.A., Crank suggests the offspring of A Fish Called Wanda and The Transporter, with violence that's resolutely sadistic. At one point, Statham lops the hand off of a baddie, and asks his victim, "How friggin' awesome was that?" Of course, he's speaking to the audience. In a gag we see coming at least a half-hour ahead of time, Chev starts pawing his girlfriend—it's uncomfortably close to rape—while exhorting her, "Save my life!" (with sex).
In the saving grace column, Crank often translates its shocks into laughs, making musical allusions both stupid ("Achy Breaky Heart") and amusingly ironic ("Everybody's Talkin'") and generally grabbing for the Snakes on a Plance camp gusto. "I must be the...genius of sick," exults the baddie, just before likening himself to Shakespeare. Well, he was half-right.