Premium Rush (2012)

12 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I have thought about it and no, I don’t recall many action chase movies in which bicycling is the subjective way to go. And now that I think about it, it seems like a nice idea for a thriller—a cat-and-mouse chase, only with the hero chased on a bicycle. And on a busy city street, no less. David Koepp, probably one of the best-known successful screenwriters (scripts on his resume include “Jurassic Park,” “Panic Room,” and the first “Spider-Man”), has taken this idea to the screen for the exciting, well-crafted chase picture “Premium Rush,” which he directed as well as co-wrote.

“Premium Rush” centers on New York City’s daredevil bicycle messengers. The best is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), fast on his two wheels and smart on the fly. His bike doesn’t have any brakes, because he fears they would cause him to wipe out at some point. But he’s fast—very fast. Fast enough to be cocky and reckless.

Wilee, along with his on-again off-again girlfriend Vanessa (Diana Ramirez) and the awesome Manny (Wole Parks), ride around the city, delivering letters in a hurry for thirty bucks a job. Wilee is asked specifically by Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) to quickly deliver an envelope to Chinatown, to a person who will make an important call to China. Wilee accepts the job, but is cornered by a crooked cop, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who politely asks for the envelope. Wilee says no, and Monday cuts the crap and gets rough, leading to Monday chasing Wilee on his bike and trying to overtake with his car. Wilee constantly has the upper hand, but not without suspense of trying to get out of what should be dead ends.

Forget the standard schlock action flicks that use chase scenes to attempt the story going, but instead manage to bore an audience to sleep, and just remember that chases can be fun. With the right amount of pacing, a good dose of tension, and very impressive stunt work, a chase scene can be very exciting to watch. Some movies recall this; others don’t. “Premium Rush” definitely does. There is a good dose of entertaining chase scenes in this movie, and they’re all very effective adrenaline rushes. Aside from the remarkable stunt work (for once, I don’t believe that a lot of CGI was used for this action movie—if they did, I have to admit I was fooled then), the camerawork is extraordinary. As Wilee is racing down the street on his bike, we’re subjected to point-of-view shots, mid-range shots, and above shots. Add that to some nifty editing and we’ve got one hell of an exciting chase picture. Also of note is a fair amount of clever moments, such as when Wilee is sorting out in his mind the exact routes to take as alternatives (if he takes a wrong turn, he’ll get hit by a vehicle—we see visions of the alternatives, some of which are quite amusing). Try doing that when you’re on a time limit.

“Premium Rush” is not all chases, however. There’s enough in this hour-and-a-half-long film to make room for a story involving why this envelope is important, why it needs to be delivered, why this dirty cop wants it so badly, etc. Most of it is told in flashback and intersects with certain parts of the movie we’ve seen before. I have to admit I almost didn’t want to see this flashback at first, since I kind of wanted to keep with the bicycle chase stuff. But as it progressed, I didn’t mind. In fact, I actually found myself caring for what was at stake.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the more reliable actors nowadays, and here he gives a top-notch performance. His character of Wilee is cocky and reckless (sort of like Chris Evans’ beach-bum character in “Cellular,” except he’s a daredevil), but he’s also likable enough for us to root for him. How much real bicycle stunt work Gordon-Levitt was able to do is beyond me, though Gordon-Levitt reportedly needed about 30 stitches after an accident with a taxi. (Stick around for a post-credits shot of the aftermath of the accident.)

And what can I say about Michael Shannon as the dirty cop Monday, other than he is just wonderful in this movie? Shannon is clearly having a lot of fun with his performance, creating a sleazy villain we love to hate. He even provides a lot of the bleakly comedic moments in “Premium Rush.”

There’s not exactly any insight in human nature or depth in much else, but “Premium Rush” isn’t exactly supposed to contain those elements. It just wants to take us on an adventure. This is a fun, exciting, energetic action film that anything but routine.

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