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Premium Rush: Porn for Bicycling Enthusiasts

Posted by on August 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

“Brakes are death!”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets more than he bargained for when he’s asked to deliver a mysterious envelope to New York’s Chinatown in Premium Rush. This film from writer/director David Koepp (best known for drafting the screenplays for Jurassic Park and Spider-Man) envisions a Manhattan dominated by hotshot, adrenaline-junkie bicycle messengers who perform death-defying feats in exchange for a minimum wage salary. Is this story even tangentially connected to reality? Hell if I know; I’ve never lived in New York. Premium Rush is, however, an enjoyable piece of escapist entertainment if you approach it with the right mindset.

The story, somewhat reminiscent of the noirs of Hollywood’s golden age, opens on Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) flying through the air after being struck by a taxi. He wipes out on the pavement in the middle of a crowded intersection, and everything goes silent. Then, like any good noir, the story rewinds and shows us how our intrepid bike messenger got into this predicament.

We discover that Wilee (“like the coyote”) works for a low-paying messenger outfit, a job that gives him the opportunity to spend his time dashing through the streets of NYC on a fixed-gear bike with no brakes. “Brakes are death,” he claims. Pressed for cash, he accepts a gig that requires him to deliver an envelope to a triad gangster in Chinatown.

Of course, he doesn’t realize he’s involving himself with some dangerous people by taking the job, and of course, he doesn’t realize the value of the contents of the envelope. However, corrupt cop and degenerate gambler Bobby Monday—played with unhinged glee by the always fantastic Michael Shannon—learns that he can pay off his gambling debts by swiping the package before it reaches its destination. He proceeds to act accordingly. What follows is a series of frenetic chase sequences as Wilee evades Monday in one of the few places on the planet where it’s faster to travel by bicycle than by automobile.

The screenplay for Premium Rush, co-written by Koepp, is cleverly constructed, folding back in on itself occasionally to reveal the back stories of the principle characters. The story remains in a state of constant of motion, and like its protagonist, never grinds to a halt. Koepp realizes that his audience is paying to see action, and he doesn’t disappoint.

Still, this tale of corrupt cops, Chinese gangsters, and seemingly superhuman bike messengers could have become embarrassingly corny if not for the firmly tongue-in-cheek approach adopted by Koepp and the cast. Both director and actors manage to successfully perform a tight-rope walk between embarrassing earnestness and off-putting silliness. Koepp manages to keep the proceedings fast-paced and light-hearted without giving the audience too much time to focus on the ridiculousness of the story. Likewise, the cast manages to avoid the pitfalls of taking the material too seriously; Michael Shannon particularly excels in making his villainous cop both comedic and menacing.

However, the real reason to bother with Premium Rush is to see the chase sequences. In the mad dash for the mysterious package, bicyclists dash through crowded intersections, weave in and out of traffic, tear through Central Park, and jump a variety of obstacles. The action seems plausible. There doesn’t appear to be any CGI in the movie, and the film’s many impressive stunts appear to be performed by real stunt doubles on real bikes. That leaves the film’s action sequences feeling grounded, and as a result, all the more exciting.

In the end, Premium Rush primarily functions as porn for bicycling enthusiasts. It depicts a cheesy fantasy in which young, cocky hipsters are the only people capable of thwarting cops and criminals in order to get the job done. And yet, the movie still somehow manages to be fun and engaging. Premium Rush is one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.

7/10 FleshEatingZipper

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