At long last we get a movie about cycling! And it’s set in lovely New York! And it’s got trendy hipsters! Who work as thrill-seeking bike couriers! They don’t have brakes because they ride fixies! They might die! Yay!
Premium Rush stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee (yes like Wile E Coyote), a carefree bike courier in Manhattan who picks up a package (it wasn’t marked ACME surprisingly enough) for delivery to an address in Chinatown. This job opens up a huge can of worms with a NYPD detective with gambling problems (Michael Shannon giving it socks), who wants to get hold of the delivery in order to pay off some debts. A series of flashbacks tell us a little more about the value of the package and provide a little insight into Wilee’s failed law career and relationship with fellow courier Vanessa (Dania Ramirez).
The use of flashbacks and the jumpy narrative structure of the film would be interesting enough if there was an actual story to chop up and serve to the audience. Instead we have a predictable and cheesy yarn that’s only there to provide a setup for the action set-pieces.
“JGL” is in the middle of an action-packed summer having played Blake/Robin in The Dark Knight Rises, and with the part of “young Bruce Willis” in the highly-anticipated Looper to come next month. Ever since his days as Tommy in 3rd Rock from the Sun, he has always been an immensely watchable screen-presence and Premium Rush is no different. In the hands of someone more, eh, “divisive” like Shia LaBeouf or Taylor Lautner, the film would be completely unwatchable but the cat and mouse game he plays with Shannon manages to makes things close to tolerable.
Aside from the Shannon and JGL performances, the only redeeming quality may be the look of the film. The DP Mitchell Amundsen and the digital effects teams have done a great job at creating a film that feels like it’s really moving through the streets of New York City. By showing us “maps”, ostensibly rendered by Wilee’s phone’s GPS, and then panning right down through the map into the action, we get a real sense of where they’re going and where they’ve been. Despite some criticism, to my eye all the CGI looked great and at no point was it that obvious that we were seeing stunt riders or green-screen technology in play.
So what a real pity that the damn thing is so bloody infuriating. Despite nods to films like Phone Booth and Crank (two very different, but highly enjoyable pieces of work), Premium Rush fails by forgetting the need for a serviceable story. The film’s morals are all over the place with poorly defined lines between the good and bad guys as you find yourself asking on more than one occasion who just died and whether the audience should give a damn. There’s also a hilariously cliched and out-dated view of the NYPD as a haphazard bunch of idiots more willing to fall over in a slapstick fashion than wield their weapons. 21 Jump Street portrays police in a better fashion than Premium Rush.
The biggest culprit is undoubtedly director David Koepp’s script (co-written with John Kamps), which gives us such stinkers as “I’ll catch up with you guys, I forgot my bullets!” and “I need a flashmob like two minutes ago!”. There’s also lots of uncomfortable racist stereo-types in play as the film stumbles into its final act in Chinatown.
There could be the makings of an enjoyable thriller in here but this long-delayed film (the first full trailer showed up a year ago) is so frustrating that it just leaves you fiddling in your pocket for the car keys.
USA / Directed By: David Koepp / Written By: David Koepp, John Kamps / Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Aasif Mandvi / 91min / Action / Release: 24 August 2012 (US/Canada), 14 September 2012 (UK/Ireland)