Movie Review: Premium Rush
Directed by David Koepp
Written by David Koepp and John Kamps
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon and Dania Ramirez
Opens 14th September (Ireland)
Hey, action fans!
Tired of boring old action movie clichés like “appealing protagonists”?
Do you yearn to have the simplest and most obvious of plot points over-explained to the point where it almost feels like the movie is sneering sarcastically, rolling it’s eyes and asking “am I using too many big words?”
Do you wish action sequences would just calm down and take it slow once in a while?
Most important of all, are you a hipster but only in the shallowest, fashion-conscious sense of the word?
Then joyous news! They finally made a movie just for you? On the other hand you may be the worst person in the world. So it probably averages out to “fairly good news”.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Wilee (pronounced Wylee, like Wile E. Coyote, get it? Don’t worry, the movie explains it too. We’ll get through this) is a law school dropout who couldn’t take the idea of becoming a “suit” and so became a courier, because it’s not like there are any particular types of clothing you have to wear for that job. If I seem too focused on the suit thing it’s only because Wilee himself seems to be. In this movie that takes place mainly over a period of a couple of hours there are two separate scenes where he uses suits as his rationale for dropping out, like an anti-Barney Stinson.
Wilee rides a fixed gear bike, currently fashionable among the very stupid. Fixed gear bikes have no brakes and can’t coast, so you have to pedal constantly and skid to a stop. They cause a ridiculous amount of accidents and require a lack of consideration for other road users and pedestrians that borders on sociopathy. But because Wilee uses one, and because no other protagonist is forthcoming, we are supposed to believe they are the ultimate freedom. “Brakes are death” says Wilee, quite punchably.
This kind of shallow characterisation and motivation is a hallmark of this film.
There’s Vanessa (Dania Ramirez),a girlfriend character who might as well be named Girlfriend Character. Vanessa’s entire character exists solely to dump Wilee at the beginning of the movie for the sake of an utterly pointless romantic subplot. Will Wilee win her back? Yes. No, that’s not a spoiler, the only way not to see that coming is to face the wrong way in the cinema.
There’s Marco, The Rival Who Learns To Respect The Hero (Sean Kennedy). Marco wants to prove he’s a better cyclist than Wilee and steal his girlfriend. That is his entire personality and character arc.
This deficit of character is thrown into sharp relief by Michael Shannon’s Bobby Monday, a crooked cop who through an extraordinary run of bad luck winds up in pursuit of Wilee, who has picked up a package that Bobby desperately needs. Shannon is positively ablaze every second he’s on screen, by turns sympathetic and terrifying and always utterly compelling. It’s as if he’s come from a completely different movie and frankly that’s one I’d like to see.
In fact if anything, Premium Rush feels like too many movies at once. The villain seems to come from a serious cop drama where he’s a troubled antihero. The love interest and rival come from a goofy romantic comedy. The protagonist comes from a coming-of-age movie where the douchey man-child learns how to not be a douche. Sadly that movie would have to be a sequel as Wilee has zero character arc, being as much a smug, self-satisfied dick when the credits roll as he was when the cinema lights go down. Even the plot itself feels like an 80’s children’s film which somehow cast adult actors, a reverse Bugsy Malone.
The film uses flashbacks in a way that’s not half as clever as it thinks. At one point a character called Nima is seen reacting to another character off-camera. Minutes later in movie time, Bobby Monday informs Wilee that he has just been talking to Nima, even presenting a document Wilee had just handed to her. Half an hour or so later in screen time we flash back to reveal that the character Nima was reacting to was… Bobby Monday! Pretty much as you’d assume! Except you didn’t have to assume, you were told! It’s an astonishingly insulting reveal.
And that’s not the worst use of flashback in the movie! Bizarrely the movie stops about two-thirds of the way through to give us a flashback to an unspecified number of weeks/months/years before the beginning of the story that includes no new information except to explain where Wilee got his bike. I had not realised until this point that I was supposed to be wondering about that.
Hilariously this scene sets up both the romance and rivalry subplots by showing Wilee and Girlfriend Character sharing their first kiss while Marco glares at them from across the room. This despite the fact that both the romance and the rivalry are well established by this point. It is 100% redundant.
Even action-wise some extremely puzzling choices were made, which is saying something for a largely pushbike-based chase movie. As a focus for a cinematic chase scene bikes have a lot going against them. They’re small, light and quiet. Yet there are parts of Premium Rush where the action literally comes to a stop as Wilee considers the routes available to him and we get brief fantasy sequences where we see the different ways he can be unconvincingly smashed by a bus. Resetting a moment three times makes the moment less exciting, not more.
Premium Rush is repetitive and dull, by far the poorest action offering of the year so far and a shameful waste of a fantastic Michael Shannon performance. Skip it.