Premium Rush (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
25Aug/126

Premium Rush (2012)

3

Finally, a movie comes out of nowhere to kick off the summer season right as summer is ending.  Premium Rushis the kind of film that would be perfect in late May or early June, right when kids are getting out of school and their parents are looking for a brisk flick that won't bore them.  Word would get out that, hey, this flick isn't just a family fun action fest but features a few brilliant performances and then the cinephiles would come out of the woodwork.

As it stands, Premium Rush is an experience I and many others will be very happy to have found this year.  We'll be able to wear proud smiles talking about the whip-fast bike chases that take so many creative turns, the great plucky aw shucks hero performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or how quickly and easily it established unique communities with little more than a cluttered shop and customers.  But the reason any of us will continue talking about this at all has to do with Michael Shannon, who is quickly becoming the go-to guy for giving your films a brilliant edge.

Levitt does a lot of his own stunt work and it pays off in an incredible series of chases.

Before his brilliance pops up, Premium Rush establishes its carefree style very quickly.  It borrows a page from the playbook of the best car chase films by coming in close with bike messenger Wilee (Levitt) on a premium rush run through New York City.  Writer / director David Koepp puts the camera dead-center of Wilee's handlebars and in a few quick shots establishes just how fast and dangerous the way he rides is.  He keeps his distance the rest of the film but that one shot sets the rules of the chases we watch, very little CGI, minimum of camera trickery, and amazing bike work.

So Wilee picks up a rushed package from a scared woman that an insistent man with a very cop-like name, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), wants to take hold of.  Wilee pedals off, Bobby follows in his car, and both have what can be charitably called a casual disregard for the laws of the road.  The chase is basically going to last for the whole movie and this first leg is a doozy.  Wilee pedals through and into traffic, bounces into parks and buildings, dodges cops, and tries to keep people from getting hurt.  Bobby, by contrast, drives backwards through parking garages, on sidewalks, through construction sites, and into all lanes of traffic to get a hold of that package.  The stunt work of both driver and bicyclist as well as the ingenuity of the setups is exciting and had me bouncing in my seat with a stupid grin the whole time.

Koepp preserves each of these moments in glorious long-shot with a minimum of cutting.  He established the danger in those opening scenes and now he wants to preserve the skill.  It's only now clear to me well after the fact that it was not Levitt in all of those shots.  But Levitt, bless the guy, did as much of the stunt and bike work as possible (which, I'm also now learning, resulted in an accident that needed 31 stitches.)  When the rest of the bike cast gets involved they also try and do as much of their own bike work as possible.  Koepp flawlessly cuts between what is and is not done by the principals and keeps the glorious illusion rolling until the end.

The speed and proximity of all the objects in motion is well established at the beginning so the terror of a sudden accident is never too far away.

Speaking of the bike crew, the film did slow down a bit too much when it started focusing on those subplots.  The setting is superb, a cluttered mess of bike tools and good-natured overlord massaging orders into his phones, and the personalities are fun, especially the enigmatic employee who prefers to sit in the corner and say things that kind of make sense before going back to reading.  Then there is a lot of drama with Wilee's girlfriend vanessa (Dania Ramirez), who share great chemistry together, but end up being used more as plot sand paper than anything else.  The scenes are essential, but an extra glance or worried phrase could have been trimmed out to preserve some of the momentum.

Then there's the matter of Shannon's brilliant performance.  Premium Rush carries the kind of wisecracking attitude that would fit right in with old Looney Tunes cartoons.  Shannon, right when he appears, caught the attitude and adopted a persona and speaking pattern that seems modeled after a psychotically violent Elmer Fudd.  He speaks with a speech impediment (which, later on, we find he has a good reason to), glances nervously around for improvised weapons, and makes a fun call to his style when he learns Wilee's name ("Wilee?  Wile.  Eeeeeee.  The Coyote.")  I was giggling at the sheer joy and creativity of his frustration and utter ineptitude as a villain with glee, and I now have the assurance that if Shannon ever leaves intense drama world he can transition to other genres perfectly.

Here's to you, soon to be unsung Premium Rush, may you be used in conversational shorthand between film lovers for some time.

Premium Rush (2012)
Written and directed by David Koepp.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. wow, i really did like this movie. but i do agree that the chase scenes were cool. but how can a guy in a car not catch up with a guy on a bike?

  2. Nothing new that we haven’t seen or heard before, but it still has some fun with itself, even if the writing really takes away from it. Nice review Andrew.

    • Thanks for commenting Dan. I agree that it was assembled with familiar pieces, but it’s gotten to the point that something as “familiar” is becoming less common. It made sense that Koepp worked on other throwback films like Jurassic Park, The Shadow, an MiB3. Premium Rush felt like he was going for a sort of ’50s “gee whizz” atmosphere with ’70s car chases reproduced on a bike. I know the cheesiness won’t be for everyone, but considering the bloated dreck we’ve gotten this year from our action and thriller films, I’m very grateful for it.

  3. i agree that the setting is great and the pacing is perfect but everything else? garbage. which is too bad because the cast here is great. the disjointed subplot made the film try to be something it just wasn’t.

    • Candice, thanks for commenting again, and apologies if I’ve missed something key – but didn’t you just say you really liked the movie a couple of comments up?


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