FILM OF THE WEEK: Premium Rush
by Vadim Rizov
is currently ranked fifth
on the list of screenwriters who've made the most money for their employers. Seemingly as a kind of thank you for laying the blueprint for Spider-Man
, Jurassic Park
and other blockbuster behemoths and staples, Koepp is allowed to direct a flop of his own from time to time. Adding to a record solidly devoid of directorial hits (Stir of Echoes
, Secret Window
, and most recently the Ricky Gervais bomb Ghost Town
), Premium Rush
is a nifty, streamlined chaser to another summer of the CGI-overloaded bloat Koepp helped birth into existence.
The bike messenger hero's name, Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt
), is an early indicator Koepp's not taking anything too seriously. "Like the coyote?" bad cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon
) snarls. Sometimes, approaching a particularly tricky intersection, Wilee visualizes what'll happen in three different routes, and the resulting hypothetical disasters have a Wile-squished-flat quality. Resiliently flippant, Wilee's a law-school dropout who wants to avoid professional stultification. Not that Koepp really cares: there's a dull, token three minutes spent obligatorily establishing that he's a heterosexual male who (surprise!) is on the outs with his girlfriend, thereby meaning they'll be all good by film's end after some feats of derring-do. (Die Hard
dies hard.) Otherwise, it's all bicycle chases and tossed-off dialogue.
There are no visible digital effects and only one gunshot fired: a boy, a bike, a bad guy and a MacGuffin are more than enough for an unpretentious B-movie. (Don't even ask what the motivating incident is: just know that it involves Wilee riding while Bobby chases. It really is that simple.) It's a movie physically out of time, actually set in New York City rather than a tax-break-friendly anonymous metropolis, with Wilee speeding from Columbia University to Chinatown. Cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen
's frames are crisp and filled with natural light, blessedly free of the obsessive color correction and tinting that makes so much recent Hollywood product a super-saturated pain to watch.
Gordon-Levitt's a self-described master of "running reds, killing peds," though he's mostly an energetic placeholder for a fully-formed hero. His nemesis Shannon gets a chance to chew any and all available scenery. A specialist in deranged types, he's having an obvious blast, at one point going into a eye-twitching, unmotivated rant about his rage hearing someone say "Suck it!" on primetime TV at 8:30pm, when kids could be watching. He's the year's most genuinely eccentric bad guy, and hence funny, not least when screaming "delinquent scum!" at passing kids.
Most scenes end with punchlines from bit players, none of which would scan as comical on the page, but on-screen they work pacing wonders. Premium Rush
isn't exactly, say, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
, but it has similar instincts in depicting a Manhattan full of frazzled people taking every disaster in stride and finding time to joke about it. There's a bit where Wilee bikes through a deli, not even raising his voice as he tells customers to get out of the way. They all do without even getting angry, busy New Yorkers unsurprised and unfazed by the dozens of daily oddities that require their cooperation. It's an anachronistic fantasy (Mayor Bloomberg's Manhattan is effectively a playground for the stupidly wealthy, and anyone who did that would get clobbered rather than smiled at), but a nice one.
To remind people he's a skilled screenwriter capable of something besides pounding tentpole material into filmable shape, Koepp gets the movie done in more or less real time (91 minutes covering 5:30 to 7 PM), showily jumping backwards to tease out key details about the MacGuffin without losing pace. As a director, he nails the spatially coherent, exhilaratingly speedy bicycling scenes, racing along in parallel lanes or from behind to keep up. Devoid of subtext, Premium Rush
is slight but as free and fast as Wilee's fixed-gear rides.
Posted by ahillis at August 23, 2012 7:44 AM