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Premium Rush

PREMIUM RUSH

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Koepp

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Wolé Parks, Jamie Chung, Aasif Mandvi

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, intense action sequences and language)

Running Time: 1:31

Release Date: 8/24/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 23, 2012

The first act of Premium Rush fully embraces the inherent silliness of its premise: An everyday, wholly average cyclist speeding through the streets of New York City is transformed into a sort of superhero. He can outrun and outmaneuver cars with ease. He lives and rides outside the constraints of laws, wheeling down the sidewalk and evading the police to fulfill his mission. The fate of a little boy in China rests entirely in his hands.

He even has a helpful, uncanny ability—a "cyclist sense," if you will. When confronted with a dangerous obstacle—more often than not oncoming traffic—time slows to a crawl in his mind as he plots out alternate routes that he could take and sees into the future of what would happen if he chose them. One course leads to him being hit by two cars in succession; another leads to a man being run over by a delivery truck. This is undeniably ludicrous, particularly given how efficient the effect is and with what significance co-writer/director David Koepp plays it, but surely those flashes of wanton bodily destruction point to some sense of humor about the whole thing.

Also, the central character's name is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Yes, it's pronounced like the animated coyote, and, yes, that's probably the most unique thing about him as a character—beyond the biking skills, of course. Wilee works for a bicycle messenger service. He was going to become a lawyer but quit before taking the bar exam. He prefers wearing a helmet to work instead of a suit; he loves the freedom (one thing he's probably not free of: massive student loan debt).

Wilee's job is about to get exciting when he picks up an envelope from his on-the-rocks girlfriend Vanessa's (Dania Ramirez) roommate Nima (Jamie Chung), a Chinese national on a student visa. It is vital, she tells Wilee, that the contents of the envelope arrive at their destination on the other side of town by 7 p.m. It's plenty of time, but we already know he'll be involved in a nasty accident before then.

Koepp and John Kamps' screenplay plays with the chronology while keeping fixated on the time, which appears onscreen as the eventually (and oddly, given how straightforward the basic story is: Get from point A to point B) weaving plot adjusts its bearings and the deadline approaches. The latter use gives us the old standby of the—literal in this case—ticking clock. Wilee uses his phone's GPS to figure a route, convinced this will be easy.

The barrier is Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a slimy guy in debt to a few of the wrong people who wants what's in Nima's envelope. Shannon takes a big risk with his performance, playing the entirety of the role in a manner that would befit a screwball comedy. His laugh alone—an impulsive nasal giggle—sounds like something straight out of a cartoon.

It's acting without a net, with a string of strange and confounding choices, and it's a shot in the arm to material as basic as this. Sure, the threat posed by Monday is diminished by Shannon's off-kilter work here (Even though he does kill someone; after bashing a guy's head into the back of a truck, Monday opines, "He's fine"), but then again, the movie makes so much of the dangers of motor vehicles to Wilee's trek that it's a wash.

Monday's introduction precedes an extended pursuit through the always-busy streets of the Big Apple, with Wilee on his trusty, well-worn, and brakeless bike (He's convinced it's the stopping that'll kill you) and Monday following closely in his car. Watching Wilee swerving between cars, dodge pesky pedestrians, and turn directly into oncoming traffic, Koepp keeps the stakes high and during this first chase sequence. There's even an amusing counterpoint to the peril in the form of a persistent bicycle cop (Christopher Place), who gets in way over his head by taking an interest in Wilee's illegal riding.

The momentum drops significantly when the script stops to backtrack in time to show events prior to Wilee's delivery job from the perspectives of Monday and Nima. Monday's story, placed right in the midst of a tense moment in which Wilee finds himself trapped between two bad options (arrest and whatever Monday might do to him), at least has Shannon's performance to bolster it, as we witness just how pathetic the man is (Even his exit has him confused by the bad luck he himself created), but Nima's is unnecessary, only present to explain far too much about the MacGuffin.

The rest of the action is solidly constructed (A race between Wilee and competitor for Vanessa's affections played by Wolé Parks is entirely for show, but if one boils them down to the essentials, so are the rest of the sequences, especially when Wilee starts breaking out his old stunt routines to elude people). Even so, Premium Rush simply cannot recover from the pace-deflating expository flashbacks.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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