Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), one of the fastest bike messengers in New York, falls into the crosshairs of corrupt cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) when he is tasked with delivering an envelope containing a mysterious ticket.
As bad as some of this movie is, when it isn’t trying too hard to be about something other than an action movie it’s quite enjoyable. The chase scenes are pretty cool and feature some interesting takes on the tried and true “Bullet Time” effect made popular in The Matrix. Basically whenever Wilee comes to an intersection crammed with traffic and other hazards we see his thought processes on how to proceed without crashing. For example, if there are a number of cars stopped in the intersection along with pedestrians and construction, time will slow down and we will see his paths for multiple scenarios. One might help him avoid being hit by a car, but he will run into a woman pushing a stroller. One might be great for avoiding construction work, but he’ll slam into a speeding taxi. One will suggest that he swerve around some trucks in order to get onto the sidewalk and pass unharmed on his journey. Sure it’s a little silly that he can work all these complex details out in his head within the space of a second or two like some idiot savant on two wheels, but since it’s presented in a clever way I was willing to just roll with it and I found myself enjoying those scenes. The opening also features some nifty effects work where we see Wilee get into a nasty crash in reverse.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is turning into a jack-of-all-trades kind of actor; one who doesn’t seem to stop working or limit himself to any one specific genre. He’s been in heady science fiction films (Inception, Looper), romantic comedies ((500) Days of Summer), serious dramas (50/50, Stop-Loss), silly summer fodder (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), intense action films (The Dark Knight Rises) and random goofiness (Women in Trouble, Electra Luxx). The thing that separates him from Nicolas Cage is that he’s been great in all of them (well, maybe not G.I. Joe). He has a natural style that apparently makes it easy for him to slip into any type of role. He’s moving up my list of favorite actors.
On the flip side we have Michael Shannon as the villain who clearly comes from the planet of Trying-Too-Hard. I know the guy is a fantastic actor (Bug, Revolutionary Road, The Runaways), but here he’s overdoing it completely and his character comes off as more annoying and ridiculous than scary or menacing. His voice is also of a higher register than you’d assume after seeing his hardened features, so when he tries to throw a death threat in the hero’s direction it sounds like he’s just been kicked in the balls and is squeaking his dialogue. Bad choices on the part of Shannon and the director.
The supporting cast is decent. Dania Ramirez does what she can with her bit part as Wilee’s on/off girlfriend, however she doesn’t seem to be able to act and ride a bike at the same time. Wolé Parks plays the main competition for her affections as a roided out douchebag who seems to be able to afford to buy items way out of his price range when you find out how little these messengers make (an Escalade… really?!). Jamie Chung turns in a sincerely heartfelt performance as the person who is responsible for all the shenanigans taking place in the story, but for some reason she cannot pull off a convincing Chinese accent at all. It’s quite distracting.
Writer/director David Koepp, who penned the screenplays for Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible and Panic Room and also directed Secret Window, Stir of Echoes and The Trigger Effect, has a great eye for action and a knack for well written characters, but he needs to get his shit together when it comes to directing actors. I’ve seen the majority of his directing projects and they all suffer from this issue. He seems to let his actors walk all over him and go overboard. I’m sure Gordon-Levitt knew better than to go bonkers since he saw Shannon doing it non-stop during production. There’s always someone in his films that goes completely over-the-top and I’m not sure if it’s a conscious choice on Koepp’s part or if he just has no backbone to tell his thespians to reel it in or not. Whatever the case may be it always knocks his films down a notch or two in my book. If he can write great characters for other director’s projects and the actors cast to play those parts turn in amazing performances it is safe to assume that it’s his direction that is at fault. It’s a shame, because the guy is talented in many respects.
His script for Premium Rush is simple and to the point. Even thought there are multiple backtracks in the story to show off the past actions of the main players it never gets boring or too complicated to follow. The ending, however, is lame in the extreme. I’m not going to ruin it if you’re still planning on seeing the film, but I’ll give a hint… if you’ve seen Hackers you’ve seen the ending of this film. After seeing attitudes of the characters in the film towards each other I didn’t once believe that what happened would ever happen. What follows this event is even dumber.
Premium Rush is an entertaining waste of 90 minutes. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely not great either. It could have been an awesome flick if some of the casting was different and some of the stupidity was eliminated. I recommend it as a definite rental, but not a purchase.
3 out of 5