'Premium Rush' a jolt of pure caffeine

atomictown.comAugust 27, 2012 

To figure out if a movie set in New York was actually filmed there, you only need to look for one thing. Filth.

It's not really the city's fault it's so dirty. Really, it's quite the feat they've been able to keep such tall buildings upright on an island made entirely of chewing gum, cigarette butts, White Castle wrappers and bits of tracked-in New Jersey. But you still can't escape the fact that some of America's most expensive real estate is a giant landfill. Taxi Driver looks disgusting, but it remains to date the most realistic depiction of New York I've ever seen.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Meanwhile, other movies film in a New York that's bizarrely cleaner than I've ever seen it. It's no wonder shooting there is so expensive when 75 percent of your budget is blown on Ajax and the 187th Mechanized Street Sweepers. The new bikey-thriller Premium Rush has that scrubbed-down look, but it otherwise captures the traffic and crush of NYC so well I'm willing to cut it some slack.

NYC bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn't believe in brakes. That's what makes him among the best. He's about to end his day with a simple delivery: biking an envelope from Columbia college all the way down to Chinatown.

But crooked cop Michael Shannon wants the envelope, too. By trickery or force, he'll use all his power to pry it out of Gordon-Levitt's hands.

Premium Rush makes the New York bicycle delivery boy industry look awfully glamorous. You get to sweat like all day long! And race down America's busiest streets protected by nothing but a hemisphere of Styrofoam strapped to your skull. All that and everyone hates you with a fury normally reserved for Southern feuds. Probably because they are actually the worst.

Yet, it's hard to walk out of the theater without wanting to hitchhike to Manhattan, steal some hipster's fixie, and sign up to ride for a MacDougal Street delivery service peopled with brightly haired co-workers. That's how fun Premium Rush makes this business look.

Director/co-writer David Koepp brings a lot of style to the table. He walks a thin line -- or should I say, bikes a thin line! -- no, I shouldn't say that, because that's terrible. Anyway, he walks a thin line between overdoing the style and not overdoing it enough. While he'll readily chuck out monologues, flashbacks and slow motion, at other times Koepp does nothing more than film people biking really fast through places where traveling at such speeds would actually be incredibly dangerous.

With a thing as simple as that, it all comes down to execution. Koepp nails the bike stuff, then augments his film with a goofy sense of humor, a seesaw plot and a great antagonist in Shannon. Shannon's intensity and terminal case of the crazy-eyes make for a natural villain. Combined with some Walkenesque scenery-chewing weirdness, he's the perfect fit that feels about 1.5 pantsless ducks away from turning into a cartoon.

In fact, by the time a flash mob shows up late in the action, Premium Rush feels very much like a modern update of an '80s teen movie, where cool youngsters constantly give the slip to grumpy authority figures. Does that sound like a criticism? Because it's not meant to be.

It's not perfect. Premium Rush isn't deep in the slightest, and there are several moments where it feels too clever, artificial, and impressed with itself. Still, these moments are as fleeting as a yellow light. Like its lead, Premium Rush doesn't slow down until its job is done.

Grade: B

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and elsewhere.

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