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Premium Rush Review


RATING:
(3 STARS)

Pure adrenaline, it seems, is sometimes all one needs to sustain an entire motion picture. Take Premium Rush—the new bicycle messenger action movie directed by David Koepp and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film hits a speed bump almost every time it stops for exposition. Thankfully, those instances are few and far between, and throughout the rest of its scant 90-minute running time, Premium Rush is an energetic thrill ride with lively direction and very charismatic performances.

Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee (like the coyote), Manhattan’s craziest bike messenger. His bike has neither gears nor breaks, yet nothing stops him from delivering a package safely and on time. When his dispatcher (a hilariously douchy Aasif Mandvi) gives him an assignment that will take from Columbia University (Wilee’s alma mater, way uptown) to Chinatown (over 100 blocks further downtown), it sounds like cake. But after Wilee picks up the package from his friend, Nima (Jamie Chung), he’s approached and ultimately threatened by a Detective Robert Monday (Michael Shannon), who wants the package himself and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to get it.

What ensues is a nearly non-stop chase throughout the city, as Wilee weaves in and out of traffic and Monday lumbers through it trying to nab the cocky kid on his bike. Koepp directs each scene uniquely, employing a variety of clever techniques and angles. We see Wilee’s wild ride from overhead, side-along, and his own point of view. When he reaches an intersection, he can’t stop, so Koepp shows us the possible routes he can take to avoid injuring himself or someone else. In reality, it’s a split-second decision he must make, but we’re treated to seeing the frightening but often hilarious alternatives that flash across his mind.

Gordon-Levitt reportedly received a ton of stitches while performing stunts during filming, but his dedication was worth it. Premium Rush‘s stunts are quite impressive. Though there aren’t any crazy explosions, and the use of CGI appears sporadic, there’s something satisfyingly old-fashioned about these grand bike jumps. Late in the film, Wilee needs to escape a warehouse and some pursuant cops. It’s an absolute blast as he scoots across impounded cars and maneuvers on and off bits of scaffolding.

Gordon-Levitt’s character isn’t a typical action movie protagonist. He’s obviously very reckless (in an off-putting sort of way) and more than a little arrogant. But he’s also quite funny, and his romance with a fellow messenger (played by Dania Ramirez) is surprisingly involving. Michael Shannon gives an equally compelling performance, albeit for a very different reason. He’s off-the-reservation crazy in this film. If he brings this type of manic, unpredictable energy to next summer’s Man of Steel, we’ll all be in for a real treat.

The story, it must be said again, is dreadfully stupid. Wilee’s envelope is a classic MacGuffin, a storytelling device Hitchcock loved that’s always most effective when the audience doesn’t know much about it. Get past the clunky backstory, though, and you have a film that’s much better than you might expect. It’s fast-paced, interestingly structured, and features characters never really shown on the big screen before. Premium Rush was bumped back several months to this release date in late August. Though it’s the kind of film that deserves better, it’s certainly nice to have an antidote to the dreck this time of year is usually reserved for.

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