Thursday, August 30, 2012

Premium Rush

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a New York City Bicycle Courier threatened and antagonized by Michael Shannon in David Koepp's exciting new thriller, Premium Rush
***1/2 out of ****

Not since Kevin Bacon zoomed the streets to funky beats in Quicksilver, has there been such onscreen exhilaration devoted to the profession of bicycle couriers. Well, that doesn't say very much but I had to mention Quicksilver. At the end of a summer of disappointing action flicks featuring high-powered machinery, Premium Rush delivers fun action on a bike. Hell-yeah!

Roger Ebert says that it is not likely you will enjoy a movie that represents your profession. If you're a doctor, you'll be hard to please when watching a medical-themed movie. So I wonder how bike couriers will feel about a movie that captures the already exiting details of their work-life and amps it up with a thriller plot.

With this film, Brick, Inception, and the upcoming Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to have a fondness for unique-concept thrillers on his resume as well as physically demanding roles. Here he competently portrays a bike messenger in Manhattan who finds himself stocked and harassed by a mean guy played with expected creepiness by Michael Shannon (Agent Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire among other sinister roles) who is relentless in obtaining a delivery item. What follows are awesome chase sequences demonstrating every way an angry man behind the wheel is no match for an experienced cyclist in a metro environment.

Aside from great cinematography and stunts, this movie makes really cool stylistic choices. At times, Gordon-Levitt’s character is going at top speed and comes upon an obstacle where he envisions the possible outcomes for every turn he could make to avert disaster. Using the break isn’t an option. He doesn’t have one. Some of the imagined accidents are hilarious! We get to see maps of the smartphone-era to demonstrate the navigational reference needed to keep up with our characters positions as they zig-zag though the condensed New York environment. The film also plays with time in a familiar but effective way, providing us with back-story segments on the film’s characters when it is necessary.

Here's a review from The AV Club.

The rest of the cast works well with Wolé Parks; a competitive messenger, Aasif Mandvi; the dispatcher, Jamie Chung; the woman in trouble, and Dania Ramirez; a badass messenger chick and love interest.

From my experience of hanging out with bicycle couriers, this movie is so damn satisfying as it emphasizes the romantic nature of the profession. I always thought what these people do would lend itself to cinema in a big way, especially now that advances in cinematography make shooting on a bicycle much easier. It’s really great to see that come to fruition here.

The film is co-written and directed by David Koepp who writes for the enjoyment of the ride but ends his stories, as though there had never been a definite destination in his mind. As a result his endings range between disappointing (The Lost World: Jurassic Park) to acceptable (Stir of Echoes). Thank goodness Premium Rush is the latter of those two; last-minute plot conveniences, not much of an impact, but it didn't taint the fun time I had watching it. Tonally the movie still manages to have an arc as our hero narrates his life-affirming devotion to a job/lifestyle the beginning and end.

Premium Rush isn't profound or entirely believable but it is the kind of creative energetic sensationalism I'd been craving all summer. The bicycle-chase movie is a sub-genre that has taken too long to make a comeback. To me, it has the same value as martial-arts flicks. As for bike couriers everywhere, I think they will be happy to be getting a little glory on the big screen, even if they may find it silly at times. For everyone else, this is totally worth your time.  

Note: This movie is facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement due to similarities to a writer's novel and screenplay about roller-blade couriers by day, computer hackers by night. Thank god that movie was never made.

Check out Bob Mondello's review on All Things Considered

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