Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Every actor needs a David Koepp film (or at least one of his scripts) on his or her resume. Reliably shallow, these works exist in a safe but exciting bubble where thrills abound with an equal dose of cheese, winking at the audience to remind them that they are indeed watching a film. Johnny Depp (Secret Window), Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible), Tom Hanks (Angels & Demons), Jodie Foster (Panic Room), and Kevin Bacon (Stir of Echoes) have all reaped the benefit of a Koepp tangent, as have the casts of Spider-Man, Ghost Town, and the first two Jurassic Parks. Now with Premium Rush, two of today’s best actors go head-to-head in the filmmaker’s latest pure entertainment environment, and the pairing lives up to its promise.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, a New York City bicycle messenger tasked with what he thinks is just another delivery. While picking up an envelope from Columbia University, he’s confronted by crooked cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who needs the package’s contents to pay off a gambling debt. Through ingenuity and some nifty moves, Wilee escapes on his bike and is promptly pursued by Monday in his Mazda. Thus begins a high-octane chase through the city’s streets that rarely takes a breather.
True to the title, the adrenaline of Premium Rush’s action sequences are unequivocally the reason to see the film. Koepp vividly captures the sights and sounds of Manhattan, from the bustle of traffic and frequent police siren blips to the potential dangers of crowded intersections. Throughout these scenes, his camera weaves through traffic, swooping high and low to capture seemingly impossible shots. Never have the New York streets felt so exciting.
Providing these chases with gravitas, however, yields mixed results. Multiple times, the film jumps back a few hours for background information, and the more brief and action-packed these flashbacks are, the better. Such scenes involving Monday’s debt crackle with nearly the intensity of the rundowns, but those that trace the origin of the package reek of melodrama. Some reason is necessary to justify the action, but when the high-speed pursuits are so basically successful, each second spent away from Wilee darting through vehicles is as precious to the audience as it is to the time-pressed characters.
Despite these expository sideshows and a truly laughable finale, Premium Rush more than not sticks with what works. Koepp is firmly focused on delivering thrills over substance and his cast likewise has a blast. Gordon-Levitt brings his now-expected balance of wit and wisdom, but it’s Shannon who truly thrives in popcorn-flick territory. His Monday is more than a little off his rocker and resembles the Joker or another maniacal superhero baddie in his hyperbolic New Yawk lunacy. After the pressurized control of Take Shelter, it’s nice to see him let loose. (He certainly earned it.)
Koepp’s films aren’t out to change the world, just entertain it for a few hours. Premium Rush does exactly that; no more, no less. Audiences (and actors…and directors) in need of some fun should take note.
Rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action sequences and language.
Premium Rush is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
For more film reviews, visit The Isolated Moviegoer.