Film Review: Premium Rush

When I was little my sister and I spent hours and hours each week riding our bikes around the neighborhood, making up stories to build a world around the simple activity.  They obviously weren’t the best stories, but we were kids; so what’s Premium Rush’s excuse?

Premium Rush is advertised as a New York thriller following one of the many bike messengers of the city after he receives a mystery package.  Whatever it is, it has drawn some unwanted attention from a rather unhinged individual with a certain problem that can only be fixed by taking the package back, with force if need be.  And it need be.

The problem with this basic premise is that unless they choose to go Run, Lola, Run in terms of experimental story telling, a bike messenger film can’t exactly carry itself on that premise alone unless it has some major depth backing it up.  Enter the aforementioned unhinged individual.  There is something clearly wrong with this man, and I’m not just talking within the film.  I obviously don’t know the direction Michael Shannon was given for this character, but something tells me it was to the extent of “go big or go home,” because boy does he go big.  So much so that he becomes a caricature that really doesn’t belong in the film in which I think Rush was meant to be tonally.

Then again, it really is hard to pin down.  On top of this more intense and “dramatic” storyline involving the package content, there were also other elements thrown in to fluff up the story, most often going for the laughs along the way.  First there was a gung-ho bike cop that just can’t catch the freewheeling Wilee no matter how hard or often he tries; granted he never really had a chance considering Wilee doesn’t have the same concern for the citizens of the city based on his willingness to run over pedestrians and cause traffic accidents willingly throughout his day.  Then there is the love triangle to add drama among the bike messenger band of misfits, which also adds the excuse for more encounters that push to avoid the “chance” category.  “Oh look!  I’m Wilee’s ex and this other character who is highly competitive with Wilee likes me and I’m roommates with this other character that knows Wilee through me! Now we all have an excuse to be in far more of this film than we should be!”  Well we see through you thin plot device.

Even if this action can’t carry a whole film on its own, the scenes that are included with Gordon-Levitt let loose on the streets of New York are by far the most fun to be had during the 1.5 hour runtime, though these scenes would have been far better had they been left to speak for themselves.  The “follow the yellow GPS line” device every now and again was a cheap trick to move the movie along, but once it seemed that it became more of a plot progression device and less of a “look what we can do with computers!” type thing it became far more acceptable.  The same can’t be said for the other obvious use of visual effects though.  In moments of split second decisions the audience is brought into Wilee’s decision making, or rather, what I like to call his Spidey sense towards reading impending traffic doom.  What should have been depicted through close encounters within the actual flow of the chase was halted for over-the-top cheese of rag-dolling Gordon-Levitt’s body to show poorly created possible accident scenarios if he makes the wrong path choice, which end up taking the viewer out of the scene instead of causing further emersion into the moment.

The editing choice to cut the film out of sequence (though in big chunks) does add an additional level of intrigue as the story unfolds because it allows for connections and backstory to be revealed at a more dramatic pace, but it can’t overcompensate for what Premium Rush is lacking in this category.  Or in any other category for that matter.  With that said, Gordon-Levitt and the straight up bike chases do make the film worth seeing eventually.  There’s just no need to rush.

Final grade: C

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