FILM REVIEW: PREMIUM RUSH (2012) – “a little bit ‘70s, a little bit ‘80s, a little bit THE FRENCH CONNECTION, a little bit TOP GUN.”

Wilee: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Bobby Monday: Michael Shannon
Dania Ramirez: Vanessa
Columbia Pictures Presents A Film Directed By: David Koepp
Written By: David Koepp and John Kamps
90 minutes
Rated PG-13 for Some Violence, Language and Intense Action Sequences
PREMIUM RUSH is a fun, breezy throwback, a little bit ‘70s, a little bit ‘80s, a little bit THE FRENCH CONNECTION, a little bit TOP GUN. In a long, loud, and sweltering summer where most action movies had bigger budgets and way bigger promotional campaigns, PREMIUM RUSH zips in at season’s end with a brisk gust of pure entertainment that’s going to whiz right past you if you don’t move on it quickly.

PREMIUM RUSH was co-written and directed by David Koepp, whose credits as screenwriter include JURASSIC PARK, CARLITO’S WAY, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, PANIC ROOM, SPIDER-MAN, and WAR OF THE WORLDS, and as director include THE TRIGGER EFFECT, STIR OF ECHOES, SECRET WINDOW, and GHOST TOWN. What does that say? It says that this is a filmmaker who likes to keep busy, for one thing. It also says that this is a filmmaker who likes to attack storytelling from a variety of angles and isn’t afraid to experiment. And most importantly, this is a filmmaker with a pretty good idea of how to entertain a wide audience. It shouldn’t take much convincing for me to send you off to a David Koepp movie, but I’ll do it anyway.
In the months before its release, I was interested in PREMIUM RUSH for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it’s an authentic New York movie. So many movies set in New York are shot elsewhere and feel less than genuine as a result. As Daily Grindhouse’s man in Manhattan, I actually wandered through the PREMIUM RUSH set late last year, and was curious to see how the filming locations translated to screen. Next, there was the cast: hero Joseph Gordon-Levitt is pretty much always good, villain Michael Shannon (particularly in 2011’s TAKE SHELTER) is frequently revelatory, and lady-leads Dania Ramirez (25TH HOUR) and Jamie Chung (SUCKER PUNCH) are just plain a pair of faces I like to look at when I’m staring at a movie screen for two hours. If you love Meryl Streep I’m happy for you, but ask me if I’d rather watch HOPE SPRINGS or PREMIUM RUSH and see if I care if anyone thinks I’m shallow because of it.

Lastly, I was curious to see a rare action movie built on high-speed chases rather than gunfights. I doubt I’ll ever choose to renounce my love of pointlessly violent movies, but after the one-two punch of the sad events surrounding the release of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and the ultimately unsatisfying cacophony of THE EXPENDABLES II, I was ready to be refreshed. PREMIUM RUSH is about bike messengers in New York City, and somehow it manages to be completely thrilling. I don’t even like bike messengers in New York City, but I was rooting for them from start to finish. When a movie is providing positive PR for spandex-wearing nuisances, you know it’s got some good mojo cookin’.

The story is simple: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays all-star courier Wilee (as in Coyote), who is tasked with picking up an envelope from a pretty office manager (Jamie Chung) at Columbia University uptown and rushing it all the way down to Chinatown during rush hour. Wilee’s got big problems, like a studly co-worker (Wolé Parks) making moves on his fellow-courier girlfriend (Dania Ramirez), and then he’s got life-and-death problems, like a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) named Bobby Monday who wants whatever’s in that envelope for his own ends. The envelope isn’t exactly a MacGuffin – ultimately it matters to the story – but that’s not what you’re wondering about throughout the movie’s admirably-compact running time. (Just 91 minutes! A little more than half a DARK KNIGHT RISES!) All you’re wondering about is, how’s this kid gonna shake that crazy Bobby Monday guy?
Gordon-Levitt is becoming one of the most reliable actors around, a Matt Damon for a new generation, but what Shannon does with this movie is something else entirely. Michael Shannon grabs this movie in his teeth and masticates celluloid like a dog on fire. Bobby Monday is one part Ray Liotta in GOODFELLAS and one part Dustin Hoffman in MIDNIGHT COWBOY, with some Jon Voight in ANACONDA blended in, for the sake of pure insanity. It’s one of the most inventive, inspired, bizarre, and fun performances of 2012 by a long shot, and it keeps the rare scenes where the characters aren’t moving 70mph feel like they’re going almost that fast. (Also fun: The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi pops up as courier dispatch, in a possible callback to the character he played in SPIDER-MAN 2.) Everyone in this movie came to play. It shows.
In an interview with The New York Times, Koepp said that he absorbed decades of chase scenes, from BEN HUR to THE FRENCH CONNECTION to RUN LOLA RUN and beyond, in order to concoct the high-velocity chases he and his stunt team and cameramen deploy in PREMIUM RUSH. His parents can be proud of the film-school tuition, metaphorically or otherwise. These are some terrific chase scenes in this flick. The movie flies along at a breakneck pace, and again, it’s worth noting that the entire enterprise is non-stop action with only a single gunshot. (I’d argue that the one gunshot isn’t even dramatically necessary for the movie to feel satisfying, but I don’t want to spoil anything.)

As a New Yorker, I can attest to the relative authenticity of PREMIUM RUSH. It was a blast to see areas I see every day being used in breathtaking action sequences – even if you don’t recognize the terrain, you’ll recognize that all these thrilling stunts are being practically by real people in real danger, which is an increasingly rare and compelling virtue. And it’s got some real New York energy to it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings the fuck-you attitude, Michael Shannon brings the bugged-out weirdness, Jamie Chung brings the hope and sweetness, and Dania Ramirez brings the tangy baddest-chick allure. Look fellas, PREMIUM RUSH is a movie that gives you a sweaty Dania Ramirez in a light-blue tank-top for an hour and a half. If I can’t convince you to pay to see this movie after bringing that up, I haven’t done my job properly.






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