Aug. 29, 2012 - Issue #880: LP
Directed by David Koepp
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a New York bike courier and he loves his job maybe too much. His ride is fixed gear, no brakes, or, as some would describe it, suicidal, stupid or sociopathic. We first catch sight of Wilee in an opening teaser; he's mid-air, detached from his wheels after getting smacked by a car, so there's your warning, concerned citizens, but rest assured that the rest of Premium Rush is an entirely safety or even common sense-free zone of zippy late summer chase machine pleasure. Opening only a handful of days after the shocking news of Tony Scott's death, it's hard to watch this fleet trifle about a smug little top gun and not think of it as "Tony-Light."
Co-written and directed by David Koepp, Premium Rush is not the sort of movie where we need to get too caught up in things like story. The cheeky macguffin is a movie ticket stub with a happy face drawn on it; it's a chit of some sort that Wilee has to deliver from uptown to Chinatown by a certain hour. Turns out it has something to do with a young mother trying to get her little boy out of dark and rainy China and onto good ol' happy American soil, but for God's sake don't think too much about all that. Instead, kick back and enjoy the dynamics between Wilee and his coworkers—which include a slightly scorned love interest (Dania Ramirez) and a very handsome fellow gear-head who's got his eye on the same girl (Wolé Parks)—and, most importantly, between Wilee and the very, very corrupt NYC cop with the perfectly silly name of Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a bug-eyed gambling addict and fellow adrenaline junkie. In a goofy way, Bobby Monday is Wilee's shadow self or evil twin: he drives a car instead of a bike and wears a suit instead of shorts and a tee, but he's ruthless when it comes to chasing a solid rush. Like Wilee, he has "impulse control issues."
Who knows why he's named after Warner Brothers' perpetually doomed cartoon coyote instead of Road Runner, an obvious character analogue, but in any case Wilee is our irresponsible hero, a guy who lives for stunts, and Gordon-Levitt seems to be channeling the Keanu Reeves of the '90s, all blank handsomeness, flat delivery, a perfectly likable actor built for Speed. Yet, in terms of performance, it's the big, lumbering, funny-looking antagonist that is clearly the real hot-dogger in Premium Rush. From the moment he first appears onscreen Shannon, who has thus far made playing flamboyant nutjobs a sort of trademark, is locked into his finest haute batshit form, delivering one inspired line reading after another—check out the scene where all he has to do is sit behind the wheel and say, "Chasing a bicycle, heh-heh." Shannon alone is reason enough to see this.
But another reason is Koepp's deft handling of the chases. The Google Earth-inspired bits meant to convey Wilee's precognitive navigational skills are okay, I guess, but far more visually impressive are the old school live-action effects: beautifully shot and edited sequences of guys on bikes careening through busy, impatient Manhattan traffic—automobile and pedestrian. It's a treat to see a contemporary urban actioner that really lets the action play out, rather than cloud it with mindless cutting. A rush, indeed.
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