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Does Premium Rush live up to the adrenaline-filled ads, or does it get stuck in New York traffic? Warning: major spoilers ahead.
Premium Rush ponders an interesting question: can odd genres really build a following? Chariots of Fire featured men running on the beach; Beerfest featured beer drinkers in their natural element. But unlike these cinematic masterpieces, a movie about the life of bicycle messengers might not attract the 18-26 demographic, many of whom might have recently said goodbye to their childhood Cadillacs. There's a reason why Hollywood hasn't made a messenger bike movie since 1986's Quicksilver; perhaps two-and-half decades was long enough to try again. The result is something between mindless action pap and dra-medy, a film with interesting potential that loses steam on the final leg.
When bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon Levitt, Inception) picks up a mysterious letter from his girlfriend's law student roommate Nima (Jamie Cheung, Sucker Punch), it sets off a chase to recover it through the streets of New York City. Wilee, a former law student himself who refuses to take The Bar exam because he fears being stuck behind a desk, enjoys the thrill of weaving though Manhattan traffic on his brake-less, gear-less cycle, a fact which has made him a legend in the bike messenger community (uh...ok). The chase is instigated by police detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon, Vanilla Sky), whose crooked, gambling ways have forced him into the underworld of the Asian card room scene, only to see his debts skyrocket. He needs what's inside Wilee's envelope: an open ticket worth $50,000 that can be cashed by anyone who holds it. But Wilee isn't about to turn it over to Monday, not that Wilee knows what's inside - instead we're told that no delivery dude (or girl) can return a package once it reaches their messenger bag. Thus, our immovable object/irresistible force scenario is born, and the chase is set. As Wilee struggles to bring the envelope to its intended destination, he must count on messenger girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez, X-Men: The Last Stand) and other cycling buddies to keep Monday off his back.
Directed by Jurassic Park and Spider-Man (2000) writer David Koepp, the film starts off with inventive visuals such as a GPS device coming to life on the big screen and Wilee's Sherlock Holmes-like course plotting around potential car hot spots. But eventually, Keopp violates two sacred rules of film-making: keep the audience focused towards the story, and don't force them to take a moral side which you know is wrong. In the first case, Koepp tries to channel his best Quentin Tarantino by time shifting the story from various perspectives. This not only slows the story down unnecessarily, but (unlike Tarantino) Koepp chooses the wrong point in the movie to insert it. The second violation is more pronounced: when we learn about the true nature of the ticket (that Nima wants it delivered so that she can see her young son get illegally transported to America), the movie enters dangerous political territory. Rather than keeping the audience in suspense about the envelope right to the end, Koepp builds Act 3 around a politically-unpopular scenario, forcing us to either accept illegality as a centerpiece of the film or reject it altogether. I know, I'm standing on a soapbox here, ruminating on whether a mindless summer film like Premium Rush should embrace a moral truth like human trafficking, but the bait/switch Koepp foists on the audience is unfortunate. Add a couple of second-rate actors to the mix and an ending which felt rushed and reshot, and you have said mindless pap summer film.
Instead of aspiring to clever action heights, Premium Rush takes the low road, pounding its 91-minute story with as much force as Levitt's legs pounds his bicycle crank.
It's this sort of guerrilla-style storytelling that gave it both a fast pace but also contributed to its demise. Although he can't be blamed for the time Rush lingered in the can (two years), one should have done a better job advising Levitt, given his recent career ascension. Premium Rush isn't terrible, but it's not notable either, existing more as half-baked concept than anything else. Catch this on home video and enjoy an outdoor ride on your bike instead. The film is rated PG-13 for violence and language.
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