Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes all out in clever, thrilling ‘Premium Rush’
This is not the time of the year when you expect quality entertainment at the multiplex. This is the time of year when the last of the summer blockbusters are finishing their run and movie companies are dumping their leftovers on the big screen while the top quality Oscar-hunting movies are waiting in the wings for the end-of-the-year prestige slots.
That explains why the off-the-hook adrenaline surge provided by David Koepp’s Premium Rush is such an unexpected treat. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon face off in what is essentially a 90-minute chase layered with flashbacks that cleverly fill in the details with Pulp Fiction-esque precision, building an emotional component that gives the chase unexpected gravity.
In combination with everything you want in a chase -- death defying detours, you-are-there camera angles and just the right amount of humor -- Premium Rush takes the standard components of a by-the-book action flick and throws that book out the window.
Gordon-Levitt is Wilee, a bike messenger who defies death daily with a big fat grin on his face because he is just having so much fun playing peak-a-boo with angry cabbies and two-wheel cops. On the afternoon we are introduced to this playful daredevil, it won’t just be cabbies, red lights (his bike has no brakes) and inconvenient one-way streets that make his job such a challenge to his continued good health.
He picks-up an envelope that means everything to a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) with a gambling problem and serious anger management issues. When the cop’s strong arm tactics and abuse of his badge fail to entice Wilee into handing over the envelope, the chase is on.
Koepp is better known as a screenwriter (Spider-Man, Mission Impossible, Jurassic Park), and his previous directorial efforts (Stir of Echoes, Secret Window) didn’t suggest he could ever direct one of his own screenplays with such a deft touch. The use of the flashbacks/flash forward technique is always tricky, but except for the aforementioned Pulp Fiction, I can’t think of a movie that better utilizes the narrative-challenging style better.
When flashbacks make a movie even faster and give us insight into the characters and their actions, that is a rare and wondrous feat.
When I saw Brick and several years later, The Lookout, I made myself a movie-going rule – always trust Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s judgment. He knows what works for him, be it big event projects (Inception) or the small scale indie movies that have served him well (500 Days of Summer, 50/50). This is shaping up as a vintage Gordon-Levitt year with The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush and in the few weeks, Looper, the opening night film at this year’s Toronto Film Festival.
He kills it in a genre that doesn’t normally provide a chance to stretch one’s acting chops.
Michael Shannon is the current go-to guy when it comes to over-the-top whack jobs (Take Shelter, Boardwalk Empire) but he brings a different edge to these roles each time. Here he is terrifying yet with an unexpected, edgy humor.
The rest of the supporting is nicely filled in with Dania Ramirez as Wilee’s fellow biker and love interest Vanessa, Wole Parks as his work rival Manny and Jamie Chung as Nima, the customer whose letter instigates the action.
Premium Rush is the first selection on my Top 10 list for 2012.
Premium Rush ***1/2 (out of four)
Written & directed by David Koepp; rated PG-13.
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