daniel cohen feels the rush…sorta
Plot: When a reckless bike messenger named Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) picks up a package that attracts the attention of a corrupt cop (Michael Shannon), Wilee does everything in his power to deliver the envelope after learning what its true contents are.
This isn’t just any rush…it’s a Premium Rush. And even though this movie has the title of a cheesy nineties action flick, it plays like a…cheesy nineties action flick. What this movie has though that other nineties actioners like Speed and Face-Off don’t is a lot bicycles. This felt like a script written by a disgruntled biker who got hit by a car years ago, and now wants to subject everybody to the world of bikes because of it. But despite the laughable premise, when I watched the trailer, I actually thought this looked pretty decent. And why did I think that? Simple: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
How many times do we have to say it? This guy is becoming a Hollywood darling. He just brightens up every movie he’s in. I’m not going to say this is a phenomenal piece of work, and I get the feeling Levitt probably agreed to do this because he was at a different level of stardom when he chose it as compared to where he is now. But he’s here, and he’s making it work. He doesn’t have much to do, but you just can’t help but root for the guy. He’s fun and charismatic, and a lot of other actors would have royally screwed this up. If one of the Twilight boys (Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner) for example were in this, there wouldn’t be enough bike air pumps in the world to save it.
But it’s not just Levitt that makes this film work to some degree. The bike scenes are pretty cool and filmed really well. I would imagine that’s fairly important for a movie about people riding bikes fast. And they do a good job of depicting Wilee’s skill. There are several moments where he’s riding, and they show him playing out the different scenarios in his head of what’s going to happen if he takes a certain turn wrong. He’s almost like a Jedi, and it reminded me of when Qui-Gon Jinn says of Anakin in Episode I, ‘he can see things before they happen.’ Maybe if they re-boot Star Wars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt can play a Jedi.
The first 15 minutes, I was really into this thing. It’s fast-paced, I immediately like the protagonist, he’s got a fun rivalry with another biker (Wole Parks), they are playing the Who’s Baba O’Riley to start the film, I’m really digging it…and then they have to go and ruin it by doing exposition. And there’s nothing wrong with exposition, but this is the lengthiest explained backstory of all time. Wilee takes a package from an old acquaintance named Nima (Jamie Chung). Without spoiling anything, the package attracts the attention of a low life gambling degenerate cop, Bobby Monday, played by Michael Shannon, a role that took me completely off guard. The problem is they go into both of their stories in great detail, and it completely destroys the middle of the film. I even dozed off for a little bit, and when I came too, they were still explaining this. And what pisses me off is that it’s two simple story elements that could have been explained with a few lines of dialogue. We are here for one reason: To see Joseph Gordon-Levitt kick ass on a bike, and too much time elapses where this doesn’t happen.
But let’s get back to Michael Shannon as the sleaze bag cop. And even more so than Levitt, Shannon really sets the tone for this movie. He basically plays a bumbling villain in the vein of Joe Pesci or Daniel Stern in Home Alone. There’s even a second bumbling idiot, a bike cop played by Christopher Place. Shannon is the main antagonist though, and you never take him seriously. Everything from his voice to his mannerisms, he’s just a joke. This film really is more of a Looney Tunes cartoon then an action thriller. They even make reference to Wilee’s character being Wile E. Coyote, even though he plays more of the Road Runner role. And this is honestly the closest we’ll ever get to a live action Road Runner/Coyote movie. I’m not kidding, it really has that tone. The characters even laugh like they are in a cartoon. Oddly enough, this actually works for the film, but it does get a little over the top at times.
Overall, I had a good time with Premium Rush. Levitt is definitely the highlight, and I also like his chemistry with Dania Ramirez. There are just too many little things that hinder this from being better than ‘okay.’ The middle of the film really drags, at times it feels like a television level production, and it skates the line of becoming a full-fledged cartoon. I also wasn’t crazy about Shannon’s performance. But if you’re a hardcore cyclist, by all means, this is your holy grail. It gets really cheesy at the end too when there’s basically a ‘bikers unite’ theme going on. The only thing left to say is remember to lock your bike before walking into the theater. People will be tempted to steal bikes and ride them after seeing this.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better than ‘Meh’)