A gloriously trashy updating of the race-against-the-body-clock business of 1950's D.O.A., Crank may just be the most fun you'll ever have on a Friday night in a cinema. Jason Statham's Chev Chelios wakes up one morning to find Mexican mobsters have injected him with a slow-acting poison. His pursuit of those responsible is hindered by a tendency to nod off every five minutes; if he closes his eyes, he's a dead man. (Film critics everywhere will empathise, but fortunately we have chocolate biscuits to hand as a pick-me-up.) Hero and film thus become inseparable: both require regular jolts of adrenaline if they are to survive. As our hero's shady doctor (a cherishably louche Dwight Yoakam, channelling Dr. Nick from The Simpsons) puts it: "You gotta keep moving, Chevvy", at which point even those viewers with brains firmly in neutral will twig the conceptual genius displayed by writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor in naming their speeding protagonist after a car.
All of which is to say this is the best brilliant-dumb movie conceit since 2004's The Butterfly Effect, from which Neveldine and Taylor have borrowed Amy Smart as Statham's love interest: she is, of course, far too good for a tagalong girlfriend role such as this, but she never quite lets it show, gamely submitting to even the film's jawdropping comedy sex scene (think one of Robin Askwith's Confessions bunk-ups, as reimagined by gamers who've been up all night guzzling Red Bull). Indeed, the film goes to preposterous lengths to keep Statham's pulse rate up, having him hoover up coke from a toilet cubicle floor, ride a car up a shopping mall escalator, pull off a convenience store heist just for the thrill of it, and - at his lowest point - listen to "Achy Breaky Heart" in its entirety. "Nothing's easy," Chev sighs, having just had to shoot in the head a hoodlum whose hand he'd previously chopped off.
The film has to move at a breakneck speed to keep up with its turbo-charged protagonist: there are skipped frames and split-screens, and an ingenious use of Google Maps' search facility. Operating under the influence of the fastest camera in the West, Crank is composed as a series of short sprints rather than conventional scenes, clocking in just shy of 83 minutes, which may be the perfect time for such idiocy, if not quite a world record. (Run Lola Run came in at 79 minutes, I seem to recall.) For all this, Neveldine and Taylor keep an eye out for telling narrative and character details. Crank is endearing as the first action movie in a long while to take its lead from an item of clothing: Chev's shirt, covered in flecked pulses, and thereby providing a second skin that puts on the outside what our hero might be experiencing on the inside.
Those with an interest in Statham's career as a kind of sublimated gay porn - what else could explain the man-on-man mud wrestling in The Transporter? - should have their interest further piqued by the presence of a Latina drag queen as the hero's best friend, and Chev's offer to a room of African-American gangsters ("Anyone want some white meat?"), and the scene in which Statham makes his escape from hospital sporting a backless surgical gown and a permanent ephedrine-induced hard-on. (It is while wearing this unlikely outfit that he will go on to mount a police motorcycle to the strains of "Everybody's Talkin'" from the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack. Case closed.)
Yet more so than either of the Transporters, Snatch or Revolver, Crank may yet come to stand as The Great Jason Statham Movie: all joking aside, it's a strikingly photographed vehicle - the bold use of L.A. locations nudging the action cinema back in the direction of Point Blank - which permits its star the freest of reins to play bull in a china shop. A great Statham film is, by definition, very different from, say, a great Daniel Day-Lewis film, granted; but, even after months of immersion in L.A.'s gang culture, Day-Lewis could never have played this role this convincingly. While it's in motion, Crank provides near-definitive proof not only that nobody swears better than a British foulmouth, but also that even a lump of balsa wood, hurled in the right speed and direction (or, alternatively, placed on the receiving end of a restorative blowjob during a car chase), can come to assume a rare velocity and grace.
Crank screens on ITV1 tomorrow night at 10.40pm.