By DAVID HILTBRANDT
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
You snooze, you lose.
That's the dilemma facing Chelios (Euro action star Jason Statham) in "Crank." A hit man for a West Coast crime syndicate, Chelios has been injected by Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a rival hood, with a "Beijing cocktail."
It's a poison with a fatal effect that can be delayed only with a steady flow of adrenaline. In other words, Chelios has to keep his heart beating in his ears or he dies.
From this implausible concept, a visceral variation on "Speed," emerges a startlingly entertaining and original film. If you can stomach the hard-R rating, this is a smart, sexy and funny sprint.
There is no antidote for the toxin. So Chelios struggles merely to stay alive in order to exact as much revenge as he can. As Jack Bauer on "24" has taught us, it's amazing how much you can cram into one day. Chelios goes on a violent rampage through Los Angeles' underworld, leaving nothing but debris and corpses in his wake.
If the challenge is to drive up his blood pressure, he could simply do what most of us do: glance at his cell phone bill. But Chelios has his own adrenaline aides, including cocaine, a hospital crash cart and challenging a bar full of bikers.
Helping him along the way are his spacey girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) and an unconventional doctor (Dwight Yoakam) who provides a variety of stimulants.
Crazily shot and paced, the aptly named "Crank" never takes its foot off the accelerator. Yes, the film goes off the tracks at the end. But there really is no sensible way to finish a piledriver like this.