Saturday, August 25, 2012

Premium Rush ★★½

Offers Exciting Chase Scenes But Not Much Else 

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

It may shock you to learn that even in this day and age, sometimes the quickest way to get an important package, especially in New York City, is through a bike messenger. At least, that's the premise offered to us by Premium Rush, the new David Koepp film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon.

Levitt plays Wilee, a bike messenger who would rather risk his life peddling the dangerous streets of New York City than wear a suit and sit at a desk. He's the fastest, most skilled messenger in his profession, which conflicts with the goals and dreams his girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), has in mind for him. When he gets the call to pick up an envelope and get it to Chinatown by 7:00 P.M. he's intercepted by Detective Bobby Monday (Shannon) who demands that he hand over the contents of said envelope. Wilee refuses, and thus the chase through the city begins.

The film is full of impressive stunt work, especially by Gordon-Levitt, something to admire with a film that shoots almost everything practically instead of relying on computer effects. These chase scenes are breathtaking and give the film its most pulse-pounding moments, with Wilee narrowly outmaneuvering Monday on his bike. For anyone unfamiliar with New York's layout, these chase scenes also offer a map illustrating the route these chases will occur on. In one of the more comical elements of the film, when Wilee isn't being pursued by Monday, another cop continually tries to catch him for traffic violations, every time resulting in more pain for the cop. It's a running gag that many (including myself) will be entertained by.

Where the film falls short is in taking itself too seriously. The story behind the mysterious envelope in Wilee's possession requires far too much exposition in a film like this, thus underlying the film's inherent problem. It's as if it's afraid to be what it is: a campy, zippy movie that is meant to be entertaining, not serious drama. You need motivation for Shannon's character, but beyond that, keep it simple. The moments where the film tries to be earnest are what take away from its overall joy.

None of the characters are all that interesting, despite the two leads being among my favorite actors in the business. Gordon-Levitt tries to bring a rebel-like quality to Wilee and to an extent he is one but I never believed in the stakes that the film was raising. Shannon has fun playing a corrupt cop, but again, there's nothing more to him than what you'd think in a film like this. Vanessa is the film's biggest annoyance, which may be less the fault of the writing and more on the part of the actress. I was hoping I had seen the last of Ramirez when she was on the dreadful Heroes on NBC, but alas, here she is.

Stylistically, the film also has some problems. Koepp's decision to freeze frame Gordon-Levitt in the opening shot took away any chance I had in taking the film as seriously as Koepp clearly wanted me to. There's also a scene later on in the film when Vanessa asks her boss for backup and the camera zooms in on him as if to say something big is about to go down. It doesn't work, and is more laughable than engaging.

What I'm getting at is the fact that the film's style and tone are in constant conflict with one another. Koepp is going for a more dramatic tone but his camera angles and zooms echo something straight out of an Adam West Batman movie. It's a film that can be reasonably enjoyed for nothing other than the chase scenes the first time you watch it. However, once the credits rolled I immediately asked myself if this was a movie that could be enjoyed if watched again. Not surprisingly, the answer was a resounding "No!"

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