Saturday, 15 September 2012

Premium Rush

New York City bicycle courier Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is at the end of a tough day dodging traffic and delivering packages across the length and breadth of Manhattan when he gets one last call. Wilee has to pick up an envelope from a college campus Uptown and deliver it to Chinatown by 7pm but is soon approached by a debt ridden, crocked cop (Michael Shannon) who tries to take the package off his hands. Sensing something isn’t right; Wilee takes off at high speed which brings about a two hour chase across the Borough and ends up involving Wilee’s ex girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), love rival Manny (Wole Parks) and luckless bike cop (Christopher Place).

For a film about a bike messenger trying to deliver an envelope, Premium Rush is a lot of fun. The action is fast paced and well shot and the acting good and sometimes great. The plot is a little uninvolving but plays second fiddle to the high speed bike action.

The film opened in the UK the day before I saw it and unfortunately for a solid and exciting film there were only ten people in the Saturday evening screening I was in. For a film written and directed by David Koepp, the man who penned Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way, War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones 4 and starring the hot, new kid on the block Joseph Gordon-Levitt I hadn’t seen one trailer, poster or review before seeing the film. In a way this was a good thing as it avoided the chance for spoilers but the promotional campaign for the film seems non-existent. This is a shame as it’s a decent film and more people should see it.    

The film’s great strength lies in its cinematography. The camera weaves in and out of traffic on the handlebar of Gordon-Levitt’s bike, allowing the audience to feel as much a part of the action as possible. Other cameras show the bikes and cars whizzing past at high speed making the action look incredibly dangerous. If fact if you see the film and stay for the post credits scene you’ll be able to see just how dangerous the filming was for lead actor JG-L. The frenetic action is enhanced with several scenes in which the frame freezes at crucial intersections. These then take us inside Wilee’s head as he tries to figure out which route to take through the bust rush hour traffic. You’ll see white arrows cross the screen to mark out potential routes and then show what would happen if said route was taken. This was a great idea and helps to take us into the mind of a seemingly crazy man who is willing to cycle through New York at 50mph with no breaks. Another attractive element of the film is the map which we pop in and out of from time to time to show the route and location of Wilee as he battles against the clock and a crooked cop.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a character which isn’t a stretch for him but he plays it well. He is amiable and looks very fit on the bike. Dania Ramirez also looks fantastic but her role is pretty much limited to looking hot and shiny on a bike and making sure her nipples are erect when she’s on camera. Supporting actors Wole Parks and Christopher Place are fine with Place in particular getting some good lines and action but the star performer is undoubtedly Michael Shannon playing one of his trademark mentally unstable characters, something which few do better. He has the feel of a cartoon villain, like a bad guy from an old Disney cartoon with his menace, anguish and contorted face. In fact the whole film has a kind of cartoon feel to it. Shannon plays Tom to Gordon-Levitt’s Jerry or Wile E. Coyote to Gordon-Levitt’s Roadrunner. This idea is further expressed by the bike Cop’s hapless attempts to catch up to Gordon-Levitt who keeps bumping into and then outsmarting him in some of the funnier scenes.

What lets the film down is the plot. Told in a non-linear timeline it slowly reveals what Wilee is carrying and why Shannon’s Det. Monday wants it. This is a good device for keeping the audience guessing but there is a huge plot hole. Saying what it is would give away the ending but it should be obvious to anyone who has seen it. Another problem is that although the plot is meant to tug on the heartstrings and make you feel for certain characters I just didn’t. I wasn’t invested enough in the Chinese side of the story to care what happened and was much more interested in the cat and mouse thread of the two lead actors.

Overall Premium Rush is a good action movie which deserves a larger audience than it looks like it’ll get. The action and cinematography are great, Michael Shannon is outstanding and it’s always good to see New York City up close but it’s let down by a flimsy plot.  

GFR 7/10

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