Action movie about a dude chasing another dude who’s riding a bicycle really fast around New York City? Eh, not that interested. Make one of those dudes Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
Yeah, suddenly I’m there opening night.
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bike messenger in NYC who picks up an envelope that needs to arrive in Chinatown by 7:00. Only Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) also wants that envelope and is pretty much willing to do anything to get it. Chases ensue.
1. This is a fun movie. I actually don’t have a whole lot to say about it — it’s not the kind of film that you watch and later spend hours talking about. It’s a fast-paced, 90-minute action film with a decent sense of humor, enjoyable chase scenes, and fairly limited character development. That’s okay. I like a movie that knows what it is. Some action movies seem to take their genre as a license to be shitty, but Premium Rush is actually a pretty well made movie — it just doesn’t focus a lot of time on emotional complexity, and frankly, that’s sometimes preferable to inserting awkward scenes with Feelings.
2. Although it’s kind of funny that I say that because Premium Rush literally stops the story for flashbacks — usually for expositional purposes, although there sometimes are Feelings involved too. Still, these scenes don’t feel awkward because they move forward at the same frenetic pace as the rest of the movie, and I was never bored watching, say, Michael Shannon’s or Jamie Chung’s backstory.
3. I will say that for as many flashbacks as there were, I was a little surprised we didn’t end up getting a more in-depth look at Wilee’s motivations to become a bicycle messenger. See, he’s a law school graduate, right, who’s decided that he doesn’t want to be stuck in a suit and behind a desk for the rest of his life. (I can’t help but feel that might have been a better realization to come to before he graduated law school — I mean, I know dreams change and all, but that kind of education costs some serious dough, yeah? Did his parents pay for his schooling? Is he somehow paying his loans back with his shitty bike job? These aren’t important story questions, mind, but they do niggle at my brain just a little.)
Anyway, I’m not entirely convinced that the movie needs to give more explanation than it gave — I just kind of expected a bigger Life is For Living epiphany than we actually got.
4. Considering Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s the whole reason I saw this movie in the first place, let’s talk about him for a minute.
Wilee’s the kind of cocky daredevil character who can either be charming or really annoying, depending on how he’s played. Gordon-Levitt keeps Wilee on the right side of swagger, which is good because this is not the kind of movie that can suffer an unlikable protagonist. It may not be a huge acting challenge, but JGL doesn’t phone it in, either, and that’s always refreshing to see. He has any number of awesome reactions — one of my favorites is when Bobby Monday, who hasn’t yet revealed his full villainy — catches up to Wilee on the road, and Wilee’s all, “Douchebag?” The note of pure surprise in his voice is a small touch but a good one.
5. And as far as Bobby Monday goes . . .
I read a review that likened Michael Shannon’s performance to Dennis Hopper’s in Speed, and that’s not a terrible comparison. It’s also not a criticism. Michael Shannon is over the top and cartoonish in the best of ways — his villain is annoying, yes, but he’s intentionally annoying and also kind of funny, which is actually a pretty hard trick to pull off. (Patrick Wilson did it pretty well in The A-Team. Jason Patric, on the other hand, didn’t fare quite as well in The Losers.)
I’m a huge proponent of the belief that there is a time and place for cartoonish villains, and Premium Rush is definitely one such place. I mean, I like three-dimensional, sympathetic bad guys too, but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a black hat who twirls his mustache and bugs his eyes out like mad.
6. There’s also a love interest because of course there is.
The only things I really know Dania Ramirez from are Heroes and X-Men: The Last Stand, which . . . well, that’s kind of a horrifying resume, being honest. (Actually, I liked parts of Heroes before it went batshit crazy, but Maya was not exactly one of the parts. I don’t think anyone liked Maya. It seemed to be pretty much unanimous.)
Anyway, Ramirez is okay here. I think a stronger actress could have made Vanessa more interesting or dynamic, but to be fair, there’s not exactly a ton of actual character to work with. I really only had problems with one line delivery — she’s does this whiny I-like-it-but-don’t-kiss-me-anymore “stop” that just drives me fucking nuts. You know, there’s a wheedling note to it that just rubs me the wrong way. But it’s only one line, so I suppose I can forgive it.
7. As for the rest of the supporting cast . . . we have Jamie Chung as vulnerable woman in a bad spot, Aasif Mandvi as the boss/dispatch, and Wole Parks as Manny, the cocky rival love interest guy. Jamie Chung’s role is relatively thankless, but I think she brings as much emotion to it as she can. Aasif Mandvi is enjoyable because he’s Aasif Mandvi, and I kind of adore him.
Manny sounds like he should be tiresome as hell, but he actually serves as some of the comic relief and brings a lot of energy to the screen. Also, he looks like this . . .
. . . so, you know, there’s that.
Oh, I also liked this one guy who I think might have been the Floor Manager. (I’m not sure. I never actually caught a name.) He’s a minor part, but he has some nice reactions to Fuck Up Bobby Monday that I really enjoyed.
8. I guess my biggest obstacle to overcome with this story is that these speed demon bicycle messenger guys? They kind of seem like inconsiderate dicks who cause accidents and get people killed. I mean, the characters themselves are all okay, but the general attitude in this film seems to be we’re young, we’re free, get the fuck out of our way. And that’s all fine, up to a point — it’s kind of its own suspension of disbelief, like when you watch police chase scenes in movies and force your brain to ignore all the civilians who would totally get killed in the crossfire of these so-called heroics. But in the real world, if I’m walking down the sidewalk, munching on a candy bar, and some unrepentant jackass runs over me with his bicycle . . . well, my rebellious, generational, fuck the man spirit only goes so far, you know?
It’s easy to sympathize with characters who laugh at their near misses. It’s a bit harder to sympathize with characters who laugh at the car accidents that they unintentionally cause.
9. Although it should be said . . . Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a great, manic, adrenaline-fueled little laugh. It’s kind of infectious and awesome.
10. This movie does have a pretty decent soundtrack going for it which keeps the energy of the film up. Some of the artists featured: The Who, My Chemical Romance, Lykke Li, and The Raconteurs.
11. I also really like the scenes where Wilee has to quickly map out alternate routes in his head in an attempt to avoid a near imminent collision. I’ll admit, they’re a little flashy, but they’re also fairly fun. I think Meet Joe Black made us all aware that we’re horrible people who like to watch big stars get run over by moving vehicles. (We watched that clip in one of my film classes at the JC . . . I think we were discussing problems with tone. Of course, Meet Joe Black has many, many problems, not just tonal ones, but that particular scenes is so absurd and hilarious. Our class watched it three times, back to back to back.)
12. Finally, Wilee’s ability to find safe alternate routes fails him at least once during this movie because he does get hit by a car. (I refuse to make a spoiler section for this. This scene is shown in the first five seconds of the film. It’s also featured in every single trailer on TV.)
The reason I bring it up is that I debated if I should tag this review with “Pah. Car Accidents Can’t Hurt Me” as Wilee gets up a little faster than I think he should. I decided not to, however, because while the guy’s lucky to be alive at all, much less doing all kinds of improbable stunts in a police impound . . . well, at least Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the decency to seem in pain for the rest of the movie. That is frankly more than I can say for most TV shows and movies, so good on you, Premium Rush.
There’s nothing particularly ambitious or groundbreaking about this film, but it’s solid enough entertainment, and I had a good time watching it for an hour and a half.
Brakes equal death, at least if you’re on a bicycle, apparently. Kids, please don’t apply this to driving.