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Energy and action in ‘Premium Rush’

Kevin Noonan | Monday, August 27, 2012

 

With a name like “Premium Rush,” and a concept that revolves on the ever-fascinating world of bike messengers, it’s pretty safe to say that nobody walked into this movie expecting the next “Godfather.” Or even the next “Con Air.”

Yet, despite a laughable concept and a name that rings of parody, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s latest thriller succeeds as a light, fun, high-energy end of the summer action flick.

The film stars Gordon-Levitt (“The Dark Knight Rises,” “Inception,” “500 Days of Summer) as Wilee, a law school graduate turned bike messenger with a death wish. He speeds through New York City traffic with what has to be the absolute textbook definition of the term “reckless abandon.” His bike has no brakes and no gears, which means the only way he goes is fast, and he couldn’t stop if he wanted to.

Wilee completely buys into this lifestyle, continually railing against those who brake, either literally or metaphorically in life, especially his law school classmates who, in his eyes, live the slow life.

This attitude leads to relationship problems with his girlfriend, Vanessa, played by Dania Ramirez of “one of the extraordinarily beautiful women who inexplicably dated Turtle in ‘Entourage.'”

The films most interesting character, though, is Bobby Monday, played by Michael Shannon, who we last saw hooking up with Eminem’s mom in “8 Mile.” Monday is a corrupt NYPD detective with serious anger and gambling problems, and the two intersect one too many times and put Monday in a tight spot for money.

Wilee is ordered to pick up a delivery from his alma mater, and it turns out it’s his now ex-girlfriend’s roommate, a Chinese immigrant with a shady past, with a small envelope for delivery across town.

As soon as Wilee picks up the envelope, he runs into trouble from Monday on the quad, and his problems just get worse from there. The two race each other across town, intersecting paths for moments at a time for Wilee to show this cop how much more efficient it is to get through NYC by riding a bike and not fearing death rather than driving a car.

The film is a little ridiculous on a lot of levels. The simple fact that Wilee, and nobody else riding bikes at top speeds through traffic, only gets his stuff rocked once by a car, and even then gets right up and walks away, is a bit hard to believe.

But the movie as a whole is just so fast-paced and high-action that the absurdity of the plot doesn’t really matter. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as he has done ever since people started recognizing him as a legitimate actor, has a quietly commanding presence on the screen that sets the tone of complete intensity for the entire film.

Michael Shannon’s character is almost reminiscent of a cartoon villain, with the creepy high-pitched laugh and everything. But he’s so bad and he delves so deeply into the caricature he’s playing that it’s incredibly fun to watch.

Director David Koepp’s choreography of the action sequences in the film is, if not perfect, at the least entertaining. Wilee’s split-second decisions in traffic are broken down into extreme slow motion, giving a campy feel to what might happen if he makes a wrong decision. The fun way Koepp handles those shots keep the film from taking itself too seriously, certain suicide for a story like this.

With so much high-intensity and jittery action, one might expect to see more use of the shaky cam technique, a standard set by the first three “Bourne” films that has perhaps spoiled audiences.

All in all, even though Shannon steals some scenes, Gordon-Levitt once again continues to show his wide range of talents and unquestionable ability to carry a film on his shoulders, and this bike messenger thriller proves decidedly watchable.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan2@nd.edu