Sunday, September 9, 2012

Premium Rush - Theatrical Review

Release Date: August 21, 2012

Some movies are just made with one simple have fun. Well, I had a lot of fun with Premium Rush and think you might too.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 7:25 pm August 31, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 1 hr 30 min
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Loves: Joseph Gordon Levitt
Likes: Gimmicky action thrillers, MIchael Shannon
Neutral: Gimmicks that can't support an entire movie
Hates: Convoluted situations
Rushed to the hospital: Stay during the credits to see Levitt's real life injury

Wilee (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is the type of guy who doesn't like to stop moving forward. When he rides his bare bones messenger bike sans brakes and gears through the crowded streets of New York City, he doesn't do it for the money, he does it for the thrill of the ride. His true test comes however in a small and extremely time sensitive package that must be delivered to Chinatown within the hour. En route he is confronted by a very determined stranger (Michael Shannon) who begins chasing Wilee all over New York in one desperate attempt after another to acquire the mysterious package.

"Premium Rush" is inoffensive, fun and completely forgettable all at the same time. Does that mean you shouldn't watch it though? Well, that really depends on what you look for when you sit down and devote 90 minutes of your life to something that has no real substance to it other than some inspired chase scenes and two actors who go for broke despite the fact that they are in a generic action thriller. Long time writer/director David Koepp does his best with what he was given and the results are much better than you might think.

This starts out as just another fast paced day for Wilee.

There are three major components that make "Premium Rush" standout from other gimmick laden features. The first of which is the city of New York itself. Used as Wilee's private playground as he zips all over town, it never ceases to be engaging whenever we see him just barely scrape by a taxi or charge through an intersection with little regard for his safety. The conceit that he is a courier gives the perfect excuse for what becomes a sort of guided tour through all different facets of the city. By the time it is all over you will have seen parts of New York you never knew existed.

The second, and most prominent, are the two lead actors. Both Levitt and Shannon embrace their conventional good guy and bad guy roles. Shannon in particular is literally on fire and steals every single scene he is in. As far as villains go, he is one of the most entertaining bad guys to grace a film this year. His motivations are fairly generic as are the revelations about who he is, but none of that changes the fact that he is just menacingly fun as all hell here. Levitt is also having a good time with his more down to Earth performance but is an easy sell mainly due to the actor's natural charisma and ability to represent the everyman to near perfection even when he is doing impossible stunts to get out of larger than life situations.

He REALLY wants that package.

Lastly there is the gimmick itself. This is essentially one giant chase movie with a kid on a bike trying to outrun a lunatic in a car, a comically persistent NYC bicycle police officer and evading every hazard that gets in his way. Without the cycling angle the movie would devolve into a series of standard cat and mouse chase sequences that would have gotten repetitive very quickly (reviewers note: See "Die Hard With a Vengeance" if you want some interesting NYC car chases). All the shortcuts, close calls, incredible tricks on the fly and improvised routes make each moment on the road as entertaining and unpredictable as one would hope. You may know the destination but how it gets you there is half the fun.

Alas that brings us to its one major flaw. Every single time Wilee gets off his bike or we are subjected to one of the many flashback sequences, the film comes to a grinding halt. The filmmakers really should have taken a page out of Wilee's book, nothing good ever happens when he hits the brakes and the same can be said for the film in general. Every single moment off the streets is basically a story building moment, which despite slowing down the pace of the film does weave a solid enough story to make you care about what is going on, but it does it one too many times and ultimately feels like the filmmakers didn't know how to keep the story going while on the run, which is a shame.

Wilee's would-be girlfriend is more trouble than help sometimes.

The real offenders here are the nearly half dozen flashback scenes that literally come out of nowhere and are triggered by some random line of dialog each time that tracks back to a starting point for whichever flashback we are treated to. For example, when Michael Shannon's character is seen talking to two other guys, one of them asks about his broken tooth which suddenly whisks us back about 4 hours to a point in the day that set his character down the path he is currently on. Now, that mechanic is all good and fine but the problem is none of the information we gain from those flashbacks or how it is delivered is nearly as fun as everything out on the bustling NYC streets.

Luckily the film sticks to the streets as often as it can. There is a lot of inventiveness going on with the visual flair of the film that also helps give it this breakneck pace. Whenever Wilee enters an intersection we see him go into 'the zone' as everything around him slows down to a crawl and he assesses his surroundings looking for the best and most safe route out. Those moments, which include some pretty hilarious alternate outcomes, and the GPS navigation style overlay of the city we get whenever a character sets their destination are welcome little bits of ingenuity and visual diversity that keep the film from ever feeling like the generic cat and mouse thriller that it actually is.

Yep, there are a lot of bike chases in this thing....and they are great.

So, the question at this point is whether or not "Premium Rush" is a good movie and worth your time? While it has its fair share of flaws, the positives more than make up for them and also turn this simple little genre flick into a pretty entertaining time at the movies. With two standout performances by the two lead actors, some impressive stunts and an expertly utilized NYC landscape as the backdrop, it is hard to imagine anyone not having a fun time watching it. If all you want is something to just sit back and watch with a bag of popcorn and a nice cold soft drink in an air conditioned theater on a hot summer day, you could do a lot worse than this. Just don't expect it to stick with you for very long after it is over and you should come away pleased.





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