Chase movies: so simple, yet so exciting and mysterious. They’ve been done in so many forms since the dawn of the action film, which include landmark movies such as North by Northwest, Speed, The Bourne Trilogy and a number of other great action films. However, how often is it that we get a chase movie in which the main protagonist is a cyclist? Not that often at all; that’s why writer/director David Koepp’s new film Premium Rush intrigued me, because basically the whole entire plot revolves around a bike messenger being chased around New York City. Sure, from the trailers Premium Rush seemed to be a poorly-written film, but considering that David Koepp has some good films under his belt (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible and Spider-Man are among them) and the two leads are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon, I had some faith in this little action film. Did this end up being a refreshing rush of adrenaline?
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), incidentally nicknamed the “Coyote Man,” is very reckless but is nonetheless known for being one of the best bike messengers in all of New York City. He flaunts the prospect of going to a job in which he sits in a cubicle and wears a gray suit, for he enjoys the intense adrenaline rush that comes from dodging cars and pedestrians to deliver messages that require top security and a guy who never stops pedaling (literally). One day, he receives an envelope from a woman named Nina (Jamie Chung), who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend Vanessa’s (Dania Ramirez) roommate. It is what as known as a “premium rush” delivery, so Wilee must get it from a prestigious university to Chinatown at breakneck speed no matter what the cost; after all, for a carefree speed demon like Wilee, who is better for the job? However, before he sets off to deliver the mysterious envelope, he is cornered by a NYPD officer named Robert Monday (Michael Shannon) who seems to have reached the point where he’ll do everything to take the envelope from Wilee. After a narrow escape, he tries to deliver the envelope to its rightful destination while being chased by Monday all across New York City…
Yes, the story of Premium Rush is simple, just like many other chase movies that exist in the world today. This film had the potential to take advantage of its high concept premise and balance ridiculousness, depth and fun in order to make yet another surprisingly good August flick. Unfortunately, though, it’s not. For a majority of people I think audiences will enjoy Premium Rush while they are watching it, but afterwards they will begin to realize how crappy it actually is. I am among those people, and I’m sad to admit that because I truly wanted to like this film due to the talent involved. Now, to begin addressing my grievances with this film, allow me to briefly compare Premium Rush with writer-director David Koepp’s most recent collaboration, Men in Black 3. These two movies are both action flicks with an inherent silliness to them, but Men in Black 3 is certainly self-aware of what it is, and for that it was a surprisingly fun ride and had some rather touching moments as well. Sure, Premium Rush has its share of fun moments, but I think that this is inferior to that film for a number of reasons. First of all, the script is absolutely terrible. This film may start off well since it is basically a nicely-edited showcase of Wilee’s daily routine, but once Premium Rush gets into the actual story at hand the dialogue makes a turn for the worse. A lot of lines are laughable (not cringe-worthy, but bad to the point that my brother and I snickered from how poor they are), especially coming from Michael Shannon’s character in some of the action scenes. But I’ll go into further detail on that later; plenty of conversations are uninteresting, and a majority of these uninteresting ones are acted out while the characters are riding throughout New York and happen to be screaming into their smartphone headsets. After a while they got somewhat repetitive, and even then I just didn’t really care about anything they said. There’s one more thing about the nature of the script: I was really surprised at how much cussing David Koepp used in dialogue considering how prolific of a screenwriter he is, for swearing can be fine in films but in this one they are used in a way to overshadow the fact that these characters don’t really have anything interesting to say (either that, or maybe Koepp just couldn’t figure out how to create a truly intelligent conversation at any point in Premium Rush). So yeah, the script is bad, no doubt about it.
Tonal balance is also an issue, because as I said before with Men in Black 3 there is a way to write a stupid script but nonetheless still be fun and emotional. The very interesting thing about Premium Rush is that when it tries to be serious in some cases, either I ended up laughing (not in a good way) or facepalm from how they ridiculous they came off as. Conversely, Premium Rush was occasionally unexciting in scenes that were clearly supposed to be adrenaline rushes. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun here, because I was impressed by the chase sequences to an extent, but I was nonetheless surprised by how a movie like this lost its steam after a while. So anyway, back to the tonal unbalance. Premium Rush misses the mark when the story has some unnecessary expository sequences that bog down the film’s pace (which is another issue), and also whenever Wilee analyzes every possible route he can take at an insane intersection (Spidey Sense, anyone?). In these parts we see him imagine himself running into cars, cause people to be ran over by cars, and he even crashes into a baby carriage; in the end, most of the time I was laughing, and afterwards I felt like I shouldn’t have been. Come on, when innocent bystanders are hurt in a film like this, I shouldn’t be laughing, should I? And trust me, I wasn’t the only in the theatre who was doing so, so when this happens you know you face some problems. One last thing for this particular section: there is a part when Wilee rams into a taxi, flies through the air and then breaks some ribs as he lands on the ground. Although he still feels pain from his injury, literally minutes later we see him back on his feet running around and we even see him do a 360 off a ledge without an even minor injury to his damaged ribs. At that point, Premium Rush lost me on account of its extreme ridiculousness. My last major gripe here is that generally the characters here are monotonous and static, and in addition I was surprised that nothing gave me a reason to feel sympathetic with their situations. I suppose that I can attribute that flaw to the uneven script and acting, but otherwise I can’t recall any major change that the characters experience, so I just didn’t end up caring for them. The one I cared for the most was Wilee, for yes, his charismatic personality and life-or-death need to deliver the envelope was enough to keep me from completely hating this film’s story; nonetheless, even he doesn’t have much depth or change. The supporting characters are in no ways better, but then there’s the villain to think about. Robert Monday is a peculiar case because he has both the best and worst moments in Premium Rush. In terms of the best moments, he can be very menacing, and I also appreciated how his expository scenes show how he has much more depth than any other character in this whole film. Still, it’s a stretch for me to call him a great villain, because the embarrassingly bad script is the main thing that’s holding him back from being memorable. As soon as the “exciting” scenes kick off, he degrades into the most cartoonish villain one can possibly imagine, which is partially because of Michael Shannon’s over-the-top performance, but even so I felt that his lines in such sequences were ridiculously bad. Despite all that I have said, I must say that Premium Rush isn’t necessarily a bad movie, a lot of things about its story and script annoyed me. It has its entertaining moments here and there, and at times the silliness actually does manage to work. For anyone who goes to the movies simply for entertainment value and no interest in story whatsoever, Premium Rush may satisfy that core audience because of the cool action scenes and cartoonish vibe. In general terms, however, I felt that Premium Rush disappoints in its storytelling due to a terrible script, undeveloped characters, tonal unbalance, and an overabundance of ridiculousness. In simplest terms, it’s just a dumb movie, and not exactly the most fun one either.
So if you haven’t already gotten a clue from earlier on, Premium Rush isn’t exactly the best-acted film. For the positive end of the cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is probably the best part about it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is currently one of my favorite actors working in Hollywood today, and his performance didn’t let me down. At times I wondered why he subjected himself to a script like this, but at the same time his charisma as an actor helped Gordon-Levitt fit perfectly into his role. Michael Shannon, on the other hand, is a different story. I have mixed feelings about him, because on one end of the curve he can be enjoyable to watch when he’s supposed to be the dirty cop that we expect his character to be. On the other hand though, he doesn’t exactly have an Oscar-worthy screenplay to work with, so he’s forced to play his role as some kind of squeaky villain from a Looney Tunes cartoon (which I find ironic since he’s chasing a guy named Wilee…). Oftentimes it comes off as cringe-worthy rather than entertaining, so overall I think Michael Shannon delivered just a decent performance rather than one good enough to save Premium Rush, despite what other critics have said about this film. There is also one supporting performance that I found pretty fun, which came from an actor named Aaron Tveit. He plays a bicycle cop that also chases Wilee in a few cases scattered across the whole film, and eventually his role turns into a running gag that worked for me. I wish I could say good things about the rest of the cast, but I just can’t. Dania Ramirez plays the role of Vanessa, who happens to a bike messenger that is also Wilee’s ex-girlfriend, and she is simply not good here. There is an entire subplot involving Wilee and Vanessa trying to recompense with each others’ grievances, and the script doesn’t give her any chance to show any real acting chops, although I doubt she would have fared well otherwise. Decisively the worst performance in the whole film (and in my own opinion, one of the worst of the entire year) comes from Jamie Chung, who as far as I know is mainly known for being in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. She is absolutely awful in this film, no question about it. As if going for that Kristen Stewart “one-expression-fits-all” approach was bad enough, she even goes for an Asian accent. Yeah, I don’t even have to explain how bad it is, it’s simply terrible. All in all, despite Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon’s admirable efforts, the acting isn’t exactly a reason why you should see Premium Rush. It’s not entirely their fault though, because there are certainly talented actors in this cast; it’s just, how much can you really do with a Razzie-quality script?
At least Premium Rush doesn’t disappoint on the visual end. I always appreciate when a film is directed by one of its writers, because then ideally the director will know how to shoot their film, am I right? Well, while the script failed to impress me the cinematography sure did while I watched it. One thing that was rather off-putting after a while were the shots in which the film would switch to a 3D map of New York City you’d expect from a video game, and then we are shown a brief flash of a route that Wilee takes to catch up with events in the story. At first I thought they were cool, but later on I felt that those visual tricks were used mainly to rush the story. Otherwise, I sure love how David Koepp didn’t resort to shaky cam in Premium Rush like so many other modern action films do. This is much more old school in terms of action filmmaking, for there are more wide shots to show us the scope and intensity of a chase, and I have to admit that the shots that were basically filmed alongside the cycling characters amazed me. Stunt work and choreography is awe-striking to behold as well, although I occasionally wished there were more cars crashing into each other considering the outrageous chases that occur in Premium Rush. Overall, though, Premium Rush is a very pleasing film to look at and the action cinematography is definitely one of its highlights. The music is a rather curious thing to touch on, because I have mixed feelings about it. It is one of the reasons why the film has tone balance issues, because in scenes that should have been more serious and intense, there are actually some more “cheerful” (for the lack of a better term) techno tunes that accompany what’s occurring onscreen. Still, I can’t argue that David Sardy’s musical score is decent enough as it is.
I might be judging Premium Rush a little too harshly. After all, there is plenty of brainless fun here for audiences to have, the cinematography is impressive and Joseph Gordon-Levitt fared well. So if all you want is a mindless chase movie fueled by a fresh concept, by all means take chances with Premium Rush. Still, I know there are many people out there such as myself who appreciate good writing, and for those moviegoers, this will come as a major disappointment. Here’s the thing about this movie: while watching this movie, you will be entertained. However, I guarantee you that once this film is over, you will reach a point when you realize just how stupid and ridiculous many aspects of Premium Rush were. No matter how much it might offer in terms of harmless fun, it suffers greatly from an overly cartoonish vibe that just doesn’t work, generally poor acting, an amateurish screenplay, a lack of emotion, static characters and a surprising lack of excitement in many parts. I don’t know everyone’s personal tastes, but I think people will find more enjoyment in an actual bike ride rather than this mediocre rush.