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'Crank' star likes rush of doing his own stunts

HOLLYWOOD -- Jason Statham insists he's not an adrenaline junkie or a thrill seeker. But his actions speak louder than his words.

In his new movie, ``Crank," the wiry British actor performs the majority of his own stunts, including racing a motorcycle on the streets of Los Angeles wearing only a hospital gown, and going mano a mano with one of the bad guys while hanging out of a helicopter 3,000 feet above downtown L A with only a slim safety wire to keep him from falling.

The movie, which opens today , was not screened in advance for critics.

``The stunt men asked me a hundred times, ` Are you sure you want to do this?' " recalls the actor, 33, who, despite his tough-guy persona from such films as ``The Transporter" and ``Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," is a pussycat in person. ``They couldn't stress how important it was for me to realize they didn't want me to do it. That this was really something I was asking to do."

``Any actor who did `Crank' was going to have to be as crazy as we are, basically," says Brian Taylor, who wrote and directed the film with Mark Neveldine. ``That was a requirement for the part. When we met Jason, we figured out he was perfect for it. This movie is amped up, and Brian and I and Jason were nut cases. We liked to take things to the limits. We scared the insurance company a couple of times."

``It's a weird thing," Statham says in his distinctly working-class British accent. ``People ask, `Did you have to train?' How do you train for hanging out of a helicopter? You just go and do it."

In ``Crank," a hybrid of ``D.O.A" and ``Speed," Statham plays a hit man named Chev Chelios who freelances for a major West Coast crime syndicate. But he makes his employers mad when he decides to let his latest target go in an effort to quit the business and begin life anew with his ditzy girlfriend, Eve (Amy Smart).

Waking up the next morning, a groggy Chev learns from a phone call that he's been poisoned in his sleep and only has an hour to live. The only way he can keep alive is by moving. So as he races through the streets of Los Angeles to find the man who poisoned him, Chev does everything to keep the adrenaline pumping, including racing cars, getting involved in fights, having sex with his girlfriend in the middle of Chinatown -- even having a medical technician use a defibrillator on him.

Although Luc Besson wrote ``The Transporter" for Statham, he didn't come to mind as Neveldine and Taylor went about casting ``Crank." They were looking for an American actor.

``It was an L A story, so we never thought of him," Neveldine says. ``We couldn't find any cool American guys. They were all too soft. So one of our producers mentioned Jason Statham and said we should take a look at this guy. "

Statham's insistence on doing stunt work has taken a physical toll.

``I have blown out all the tendons in my ankles. I have shoulder injuries. My wrists are screwed up."

So why does he keep doing it?

``Because I'm stupid," he says, laughing. ``It's funny. The pain goes away when you're doing it."

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