``Crank" does the plot of the old thriller ``D.O.A." -- in which a poisoned man has 24 hours to find his killer and an antidote -- one better. Here the hit man hero (Jason Statham) has been injected with a Chinese drug cocktail that is gradually slowing his heart down, and the only way to ward off death is to keep the adrenaline constantly pumping.
That's right: It's ``Speed" in a human being.
They don't screen movies like this for critics, which is a shame, because ``Crank" is an efficient, witty, junkyard dog of an action movie for its first hour. Unfortunately, the script runs out of gas before the hero does.
While it's cooking, though, it's violently preposterous fun. Statham, who rose out of the British gangster-movie scene to star in the slam-bam ``Transporter" series, suggests Woody Harrelson's feral brother with less hair and a dash more brains. His character here is saddled with a profoundly stupid name -- Chev Chelios -- and a big problem: He wakes one smoggy L A morning to discover he's been dosed by gangster Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) in retaliation for a job done too well. (Don't ask, it's not worth explaining.)
A quick call to his personal Dr. Feelgood (Dwight Yoakam ) leads to Chev's mission: somehow keep pumped up while chasing down the bad guys. The accelerants are many and varied, and they include over-the-counter nasal spray, under-the-counter epinephrine, cocaine snorted off a bathroom floor, and many, many cans of Red Bull. When in doubt, the hero puts his hand in a waffle iron.
This is deeply silly stuff, and the writing-directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor knows to play it mean, fast, and funny. With his British growl and bulldog stance, Statham seems like a man having a particularly trying day at the office -- one that involves hijacking an EMT gurney or stealing an LAPD motorcycle while dressed in a hospital gown.
The fringes of the movie, however, consist of standard bullets-and-babes cliches, and eventually they move in for the kill. The few women in ``Crank" are merely hood ornaments and, sadly, that includes Amy Smart as Chev's girlfriend, Eve, who until recently thought he was a videogame programmer.
Smart does what she can to make the character a charming ditz, but by the time Eve's having public sex with Chev on a crowded Chinatown sidewalk, believability has been tossed out the window. The final 20 minutes of ``Crank" are bloody and routine, and the trashy high spirits turn smug. Lost in the fray is a fun little turn as Chev's transvestite friend by Efren Ramirez, better known as Pedro in ``Napoleon Dynamite."
What dynamite is here goes off early. ``Crank" works overtime to keep the metabolism juiced, with manic editing and a smart soundtrack that moves from full-on punk to Harry Nilsson's ``Everybody's Talking." Only action diehards will make it to the final credits satisfied, though. Me, I need a nap.
Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com.