Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Riding on Bikes with Poise: “Premium Rush” is the Best Bike Messenger Thriller of All Time

That title is really just scant praise. How many bike messenger thrillers are there? I’m not quite sure most people have been clamoring for one, but here it is: “Premium Rush” in all its high-octane cyclist thriller glory. You will see awesome stunts and cool shots and lots of bike riding and near escapes and lots people crashing their bikes but not getting all that hurt. You’ll also seem some rather stiff acting and some overacting and a plot that’s pretty lame if you care about that sort of stuff. But otherwise it’s a fun chase movie that’s told in a short amount of time and like an expert cyclist, it goes by fast. The simple charm of Joseph Gordon-Levitt practically saves the film from the dreary dumping ground that is the end of the summer movie season.

The story is simple enough, and bares a resemblance to another fast-paced “normal guy in not-normal fast-paced circumstances” thriller “Cellular.” Gordon-Levitt is Wilee (like the coyote, but shouldn’t he be called Roadrunner or something?) who loves his job as a bike messenger in Manhattan. He’s a young college graduate who refuses to get a job that would require a suite and tie ‘cause that ain’t his lifestyle. He lives for the thrill of cycling and loves that he gets paid to ride his bike all over the city. He soon regrets that once he’s tasked with delivering the MacGuffin, er I mean, an envelope which contains something important. Crazy man Michael Shannon (adding on the crazy) is a dirty cop who needs that envelope. At first we don’t know why. Eventually we find out, and once we do, we don’t really care all that much. And once you find out what “good” that envelope can do, you really don’t care.

But if you’re watching a movie for a good, fascinating original story, you’ve entered the wrong theater. And that’s ok because the film offers enough thrills and chases and crashes to make up for its uninteresting plot. Gordon-Levitt is a great actor and this role feels like the right fit. You care about this guy. The other characters? Not so much. There’s a subplot about his ex-girlfriend who also works as a messenger who’s played by Dania Ramirez. She’s stiff and dull. On the other end of the spectrum is Shannon’s performance which is so wildly over the top it’s like he’s still got that “Bug” movie on his mind. It’s good for some camp value, but he’s not a particularly scary or menacing villain, but he does crazy rather well.

The film was co-written and directed by David Koepp. He’s one of those screenwriters whose name isn’t as recognizable as his body of work. He wrote Jurassic Park! And Mission Impossible! And Panic Room! And Spider-Man! I’m not sure his directing skills are as well-tuned as his writing skills but there are some particularly awesome shots here. He gives the film a good sense of fun (that poor NYPD bike guy) and style (Wilee has a cyclist “spidey-sense” which steers him away from dangerous paths), but gets a little bogged down in too many expository flashbacks that sort of slow the movie down.

“Premium Rush” is fun and breezy and is certainly an accessibly thriller for anyone who likes the genre. It’d say its better than most of the end of summer garbage that’s out there but it sort of failed to meet the expectations of its sleeker and more fun trailer. But at the end of the day it features enough positives to make it worth the ride.  GRADE: B


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