On paper, and just about everywhere else (including, once upon a time, this weblog), it's pretty easy to dismiss Crank as "D.O.A.-meets-Speed." There's no question as to why this should be the case: a hitman wakes up to find a DVD informing him that he's been poisoned, and if his adrenaline drops too low, he will die. The big problem with that is that it treats on the story of a movie uniquely disconnected from narrative.

In fact, if Crank has any clear precursor in cinema history, it's Tom Tykwer's Lola Rennt. Like that film, Crank has much less in common with cinema - even action cinema - and infinitely more with the aesthetics of a video game. The movie knows this extremely well: the opening credits are straight out of a 1980's arcade game, and the end credits are followed by footage from the mobile game based on the film.

Indeed, it's halfway tempting to call it an adaptation of Grand Theft Auto. The dying Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) can grab a car seemingly at whim, he gets health in the form of cocaine, sex and Red Bull, property destruction is represented in a decidedly amoral fashion. The plot is somewhat confusing and totally immaterial: it is a pure MacGuffin, present only to give a pretext for non-stop set pieces (much as the only part of Lola's "plot" that matters is the part about "less than 30 minutes").

What's shocking is how much fun it all is, at least until it starts to sag near the end. Crank isn't just about pointless, violent action sequences, it's about massively hyperstylised action sequences. From literally the first shot, there is an endless bag of tricks that writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, cinematographer Adam Biddle and editor Brian Berdan (whose last job was assisting the cut of Tony Scott's Domino) never seem to repeat from. In that first image, Chelios wakes up, groggily, from his drugged-out sleep, and the shot drifts in and out of focus, exactly as happens when one wakes up. A simple idea, but one that has never been executed so well as here. As the film progresses, Chelios's relative health is signified by his heart (again with the video game!), the camera swooping in towards his chest with the aid of CGI.

It's all very exciting, even if most of it is derivative; much of the style seems cribbed from the aforementioned Tony Scott. Why this film is playful and thrilling when his films are nauseating and inane probably comes down to tone: he wants to make crackling stories, while Neveldine/Taylor (their onscreen credit) are entirely focused on crackling. I said that the film is a pretext for the action scenes, but that's not quite right: the action scenes themselves are mostly just a pretext for wild imagery.

Watching someone else play a video game is never much fun for very long, of course, and Crank can't even sustain an 87 minute running time before it runs out of steam - probably right around the time that Chelios screws his girlfriend on the street in the middle of LA's Chinatown. It never picks up again, not in the requisite massive shootout on top of a skyscraper, nor in the oddly poetic final moments. And it's the very definition of a film that doesn't stick with you for more than a few minutes once you're out of the theatre. But it's impossible to fault it as mindless entertainment, and it's even a nice example of form and content mixing: you're excited as hell as long as you're stimulated, and then you drop dead. It's not art, but it was far more entertaining than any of the major summer blockbusters whose presence pushed it to the hinterlands of early September.