[Review] – Premium Rush

16 Sep

Title: Premium Rush
Year: 2012
Director: David Koepp
Writers: David Koepp and John Kamps
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Aaron Tveit, Dania Ramirez
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some violence, intense action sequences and language
Runtime: 91 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Metacritic: 66

To be totally honest, I never once thought that I would like Premium Rush all that much. I mean, the two lead actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon are two favorites of mine and co-writer/director David Koepp has written some seriously successful movies (as a director he’s done far less), but still, something told me I wasn’t going to dig this one all that much. It was, after all, basically a story that revolved around this: a bike messenger being chased around New York City by a dirty cop that desperately wants to get his hands on the envelope he’s transporting. I didn’t think even these actors would be able to carry around a film based on that for an hour and a half.

Well, shame on me because it turns out I was severely wrong. Premium Rush may not be a great film by any stretch of the imagination and the screenplay Mr. Koepp devised here is formulaic to its core, but I was just left totally impressed with the performances on display, actors really selling their parts, and when they weren’t then you had all of these really thrilling action setpieces that I though were damn cool. Back in 2010 when they were filming this, Mr. Gordon-Levitt actually had to get 31 stitches in his arm as he was cycling too damn fast and was sent flying into the rear windshield of a yellow cab after hitting it; that’s how insane these cycling scenes are. And stay during the credits so that you can see Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s injury in the outtakes they play over them.

The name of Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s character is Wilee and he’s part of the craziest and agile bike messengers in the city, dodging cars, opening doors and irritated pedestrians on a daily basis while riding this super lightweight single-gear bicycle with no brakes. It’s a rather daredevil job, just swooshing around the busiest of cities like crazy risking getting seriously hurt if you do the slightest of movements wrong. But here he gets into a real life-or-death situation, a regular delivery, the last of the day in a premium rush run, manages to get people on his back trying to literally off him.

This movie really is one of the most pleasant surprises in my 2012 film year so far, it’s just superbly entertaining and not in a dimwitted kind of way but rather in some kind of more sophisticated fashion that really made it stand out for me. There are a couple of neat stylized visual scenarios here, like when Wilee starts thinking about which route to take or we get that route signaled on screen as though it were a mapping device, but for the most part Premium Rush doesn’t rely one bit on special effects of any kind, instead you get stuff that, while crazy, still seems totally plausible, and I liked that quite a lot.

It also kind of left me somewhat fascinated by the guys who are bikers in New York in real life. They get paid very little for a job that needs a tremendous amount of focus and that honestly threatens their lives more times than one. They are fearless in how they know every inch of the city inside out and know which red lights are easy to skip and which streets are the best to go against traffic. All of this in bikes without brakes people; the next time you see one of these guys on a premium rush run, then know they’re doing some real daredevil stuff. And get out of the way.

The fact that the film is all about this huge chase across Manhattan obviously suggests that the characters won’t be richly drawn and there won’t be any real depth to their plight here, but the fact of the matter is that the action stuff is spell-binding. Yes, the stuff that’s used to build these high-octane sequences around is totally formulaic and familiar, but the real centerpiece of this film is anything but, it’s got far too much imagination and relentless energy for that to be the case. The envelope that Wilee’s carrying, though you’ll get to find out later exactly what was in it, really does serve only as one big, elaborate MacGuffin, and like the best of them, it really makes the movie tick.

Mr. Gordon-Levitt is really growing as far as fame goes, and this year, having already been in The Dark Knight Rises and now this one, he still has the lead role in Looper and then a supporting turn in Lincoln for us to look forward to. Here he’s just having a damn good time, something that you get the gist is the pretty much the only reason why these messengers take this job upon themselves; the pay isn’t worth the risk, they could be getting that in a cubicle anywhere, but the high they get really has no price.

Then there’s Michael Shannon, who has to be right up there to take the title of best actor under 50 working today. His dirty cop is a villain, that much is true, and if you’ve been following this man’s career you might have a good idea of what creepy turn he would provide as villain. And yet he doesn’t do that here, he goes the other way, making him a totally ridiculous character that just oozes desperation, and it seems like he too is having a whole lot of fun playing this role, and he gets some really nice laughs in the movie.

Premium Rush was just the most awesome of surprises. I never once imagined this would be this fun, I thought the screenplay knew just how to stage this whole thing around the most thrilling of chase scenes and I thought the actors here had more than enough charisma to really hold this whole thing together. I bought into it, and in a world in which most of our action-y movies rely on huge robots and/or big explosions, it really is the freshest of options to have one that can supply more thrills than those with just a couple of bicycles.

Grade: B+

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