The whole thing is based around a simple yet extreme concept. Chelios, a hitman in working in Los Angeles, has been poisoned by gangster Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) with something known as "The Beijing Cocktail", which inhibits adrenalin from flowing through his body, eventually killing him by stopping his heart completely. After consulting with mob physician Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam), Chelios ascertains that he must keep his adrenaline flowing through pain, fear and excitement, leading to a city wide rampage as he hunts down Verona for revenge and an antidote.
There are points in Crank which show some genuine craftsmanship on the parts of co-writer-director duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. The use of subtitles and captions at places in the film is creative, and the pair at times show they know their way around a decent action sequence. Watching Chelios drive through a shopping mall like a demented Blues Brother, crashing his car sideways onto an escalator, is fiendishly entertaining, especially as Statham neither bats an eyelid nor misses a beat throughout.
Other times, the choices the pair make are less successful. There are some needlessly irritating camera angles at times, although these seem to get less prominent as the film progresses; some odd choices are made with sound effects at the start of the film too, although again these seem to drop off later on. The link to video games is made, but it's anything but subtle, with the opening credits sequence smacking you in the face with it through garish colours and hackneyed '80s style arcade sequences. There are also several action sequences which aren't nearly as successful as the shopping mall scene, leaving us feeling like we've seen parts of Crank many times before.
The biggest problem I had was with the world Chelios inhabits. Crank is definitely not set in our reality. This is a world where racism is funny (Chelios steals a cab at one point by throwing its Middle Eastern driver out of his seat and shouting "Al Qaeda!"), women are treated purely as objects (bikini-clad girls are even seen enclosed in transparent spheres, literally being used as ornaments) and all men are interested in is sex, crime, video games and shooting each other. Chelios himself isn't a very sympathetic protagonist, fitting in perfectly to his chauvinistic, prejudiced surroundings; there were several points where his heart threatened to stop, and I wouldn't have been that bothered if he'd popped his clogs there and then.
Crank isn't all bad, but there's also far too little here to praise. If you're looking for something that challenges the action genre, doing something new with the well-worn codes and conventions, Crank is definitely not it. However, if you don't mind the genre being set back several years, or you're an avid reader of Nuts or Zoo magazine, you will almost certainly lap it up.