Saturday, August 25, 2012

Phelps, Lochte, Bolt, Fraser-Pryce, Manzano, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt?

Movie Review: Premium Rush

Director: David Koepp

Reviewed: 25 August 2012

jamesintexas rating--***

A bike messenger who pedals the streets of Manhattan with no brakes clashes with a gambling-addicted scumbag psychopath in need of cash who similarly lives his life without restraint.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee (as in Coyote), the recently broken-up protagonist who careens through the alleyways, traffic jams, and crushing cabs of NYC with maniacal fervor.  He picks up a delivery that is wanted by Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) who starts out reasonably asking for the message and ends up raising the stakes dramatically.  Without giving too much away, let me say this: Premium Rush is a virtual nonstop chase movie, and a quite good one, with Levitt riding his bike like it is a contact sport.  Koepp tips his hat to video game influenced films like Run Lola Run and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by imbuing Wilee with an almost supernatural ability to read traffic patterns, play out scenarios in a split second, decide which route to take when all others will involve probable accidents and possible death.  Dania Ramirez is Vanessa, Wilee's ex who becomes wrapped up in the chase as well, and there's a potential new biker interested in her who is named Manny (Wole Parks) and might be an even stronger cyclist than Wilee.

Shannon's Monday is bug-eyed, maniacal, and scenery-chewing, but I liked decisions that were made to go smaller with his character than is usually seen with a bad guy in a New York City action movie.  Instead of feeling like there is a Keyser Soze type mastermind at work pulling all strings or a Hannibal Lecter of infinite foresight and intelligent, Bobby Monday is a mess, careening off the wrong choices he makes into the lives of others, and skidding up against multiple other characters.  The star of Boardwalk Empire and criminally under seen Take Shelter, Shannon is such a strong actor with such genuinely interesting choices that I kept wanting him to have even more to do.  He plays well off of Levitt here who has a credible bike presence and arrogance.

Koepp plays for laughs, at times, with a relentless biking cop always chasing Wilee's heels and Aasif Mandiv as the home base operator of the bike messenger system.  There are some clunky moments involving what Wilee's carrying and why he's got to deliver it, as well as some leaps of logic especially regarding Bobby Monday's degenerate character and Wilee's anti-corporate principles (as he delivers for the corporations, sans suit), but I feel like Koepp has striven to portray a subculture of astonishing speed and daring (the bike messengers who possess skills and talents still necessary in our email, internet-obsessed age) with accuracy and reverence.  There is something fun about seeing two actors bike through Central Park, pedaling at top speed, making some jumps that I would never dare on my bike.  It's the same draw and appeal of seeing Lochte best Phelps in the pool, seeing Manzano stretch from 6th to 2nd in the 1500 meter final, seeing Bolt pull away from Blake and Gatlin in the 100, or watching Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce take down Carmelita Jeter.  The thrill of speed and pushing to the limit exists in this film, despite some of its weaknesses.

In a summer of CGI that explodes space ships over alien planets, detonates nuclear weapons, and has a superhero fly bombs into portals through outer space, it was refreshing and charming to see such Premium Rush's technology implemented to simulate traffic accidents, tight squeezes between buses, cabs and their omnipresent opening doors (kinda terrifying!), and some good old fashioned bike moves.  

It's kinda sweet.

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