It’s usually the kiss of death when a movie gives the audience enough space to start thinking about things other than what’s happening on the screen, especially during exciting chase scenes. If you’re thinking about whether that’s actually Tobey Maguire in the Spider-Man suit or why guys with submachine guns can’t hit Batman or Catwoman when they’re running away in a straight line on the completely flat roof of a building (seriously), you’re not thinking about how they’re going to get out of this jam and save the thing from whoever.
But if you’re the director of a movie where even the plot guarantees moments like that over and over, the best thing you can do is not care and just go for it, which is exactly what Premium Rush does. We know that’s not Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing all of his own biking, but the scenes come at us with so much enthusiasm, speed, and sincerity that we’re not supposed to mind.
This bit of bike-sploitation follows Wilee (like the coyote), a law school dropout (think Kevin Bacon in Quicksilver) who lives for the rush of delivering messages all around New York City with such callous disregard for his own safety that it’s practically a death wish.
His adrenaline hit comes in the form of a fixed-gear with no breaks, which incidentally is a great description of the character and the movie itself; never leaves first, never slows down, and doesn’t need to because it gets where it needs to go in one piece.
Michael Shannon plays corrupt cop and gambling addict Bobby Monday, a prudish yet violent douchebag (a word you’ll be hearing a lot). Talk about a guy who can just chew up the scenery: after dazzling critics and audiences (but not the Academy, grr!) with last year’s career-defining Take Shelter, plus the creepily unforgettable Van Alden from Boardwalk Empire, Shannon’s made a name for himself as a brooding and intense indie darling. Despite Bobby Monday’s one-note character arc, watching Shannon get worked up over all these damn kids and their tattoos and rap music is more fun than it sounds. Stay tuned for him next summer as General Zod in Man of Steel. (Look: he’s already proven to be a contender for this generation’s De Niro, let the guy have his fun.)
Gordon-Levitt and some other cast members, on the other hand, come very close to wearing out their welcome. His smirk often worked for him in 50/50 and (500) Days of Summer, roles with the vulnerability to match his smarter-than-thou self-awareness, but it becomes irritating when he’s playing just The Hip Guy. And while it’s nice to see “millenials” (can we get another word, please?) shown as real people with real values, it definitely follows the Hackers formula:
some studio exec recognized a youth subculture that has yet to be glorified in film, throws in some hip jargon and idealizes their world, but appeals ultimately to the general masses instead of the subculture itself.
Still, even if you don’t love the movie, it’s appreciated as a nice distraction and a solid bit of Hollywood work ethic. The chases are exciting, the actors deliver most of their dialogue while actually riding, what little special effects there are aren’t spectacular but are imaginatively used, and the plot is just complicated enough to keep you guessing but simple enough that it’s easy to ignore when you’re supposed to focus on the super-cool dude on a bike.
RATED | PG-13
OPENS | 8.24.12