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Premium Rush Review: Flat Tires

By Daniel Carlson | Film Reviews | August 24, 2012 | Comments ()


premium-rush-review.JPG

A couple weeks ago, critic Mike Ryan wrote about August movies and how they represent the kind of filler material that lands between the Hollywood blockbusters of summer and the award-bait prestige releases of the fall. (He posited that, among all Augusts, 1996 was the worst.) We're in a dead zone on the calendar when movies are advertised not as cultural events or emotional powerhouses but merely as ways to get out of the heat for a while. Premium Rush is just such a movie. It is relentlessly bland, powerfully forgettable, utterly and joyfully dull. It's not hateful or malicious, because even negative emotions like that would require a kind of narrative commitment or spiritual drive that the film totally lacks. It's the kind of film destined to become an answer to a trivia question no one will remember to ask.

I don't mean that to sound cruel, though I'm aware it might. My tone is one of mourning, not anger. Every time I sit down to watch a movie, whether in a theater or at home, I think: "I love movies." Every time. It usually happens as the lights go down, the music kicks in, and a new world is created before me out of light. I'm in love with the power of them, from the fun ones to the serious ones, and I love watching them. When I see something as dull and unmemorable as Premium Rush, I'm not upset; I'm sad. I can feel the weight of expectation pushing me down as the hope that I'd see something entertaining -- even if triflingly so -- is replaced by the recognition that I'm instead sitting through another plastic, dead-eyed movie that goes about its business with plodding resignation. There's so much potential for a fun, funny thriller in Premium Rush, which deals with a bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tasked with transporting sensitive material through Manhattan while he's chased by a crooked cop. It's a gimmick with plenty of room for comedy and action, but the film squanders almost every opportunity to become something better than a lazy assemblage of scenes and stereotypes.

New York City bike messenger named Wilee (Levitt) -- pronounced "Wily" -- receives an envelope from Nima (Jamie Chung), who's the soon-to-be-ex-roommate of another messenger, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), with whom Wilee is in something like love. He and Nima also appear to be friends from his brief time at law school, before he washed out and didn't sit for the bar, but this isn't really hammered home. Nima gives him the envelope, containing a high-value chit, and tells him he has 90 minutes to get it to a woman in Chinatown. Levitt brings a believable kind of charm to the role, so much so that you find yourself almost rooting for a guy who brags in voice-over (used, of course, like a crutch at the film's beginning and end) about riding a fixed-gear, brakeless bike in and out of traffic and between pedestrians for the sheer fun of it. He's kind of an arrogant little kid, pulling tricks and outsmarting those dang ol' grown-ups like the second coming of Cru Jones. His goal is only to deliver the envelope, but a number of shaggy plot developments mean he has to keep doubling back to keep the package and get to his goal.

I use "doubling back" intentionally here, too. The film occasionally announces its place in the day's timeline with a giant on-screen clock meant to convey urgency, but also to allow director and co-writer David Koepp (who shares screenplay credit with John Kamps) to jump back and forth in time to show what was happening half an hour before whatever we just saw. This, as you might be worrying, is actually a great way to totally annihilate tension or suspension of disbelief: We know, e.g., that Wilee is going to be OK and trucking down Broadway in 45 minutes, so whatever scrape he gets into now won't matter. The gimmick is meant to heighten the anxiety by keeping the viewer somewhat off-balance, but it actually has the opposite effect and flattens the standard dramatic ups and downs into a simple line.

Along the way, Wilee occasionally comes across a dangerous intersection clogged with, you know, cars and people obeying the basic laws of traffic and society, so he has to make a decision about which route to take through the crowd. In these moments, Koepp freezes time and zooms in on Wilee's face as the messenger uses a kind of Spidey sense to project possible paths, illustrated with an animated line and an image of Wilee either crashing into a car or person or successfully navigating the fray. Some of these moments are meant to be a little goofy, though by the third or fourth time we see Imaginary Wilee hit a stroller or some nameless pedestrian get crushed by a hypothetical truck, they become unintentionally hilarious in ways Koepp probably did not intend. A lot of the film is like that, actually: you find yourself reacting to things that aren't happening, laughing not at what's being shown but the fact that it's being shown at all.

The bright spot in all this is Michael Shannon, who plays a mentally unstable NYPD detective named Bobby Monday but who introduces himself to civilians with the cover name Forrest J. Ackerman. Monday's in deep with local bookies and is told that he can clear his debt if he intercepts the package Wilee is taking to Chinatown, so he spends the film hounding him and growing increasingly irate. He giggles and chirps, and he even kills a couple guys. He's insane, and Shannon brings a typically convincing level of commitment to the role, hammy as it is. Levitt's easy-going, pleasant, harmless. He's a bit of a prick, but good enough to make it work. Chung is saddled with an unfortunate accent -- when a friend asks at one point why she's upset, Chung replies, "Nussing. Iss my problem." -- that doesn't help much, either. Then again, the movie asks her and everyone else to have precisely one dimension, so she obliges.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is how boring the film can be. Not just the interminable flashbacks and divergent plots, but the actual biking that's supposed to tie the whole thing together. Traffic near-collisions notwithstanding, it's remarkably trying to watch people ride bicycles across town while yelling at each other via Bluetooth headsets. It didn't have to be, either. If the filmmakers had poured even a fraction of their energies into interesting characters or a more compelling story, it would've been possible to make scenes of even the slowest cycling come alive with plot and consequence. But the action never feels like an extension of the story, just a kind of goofy obstacle thrown in to keep things going. It never clicks, though. They can pedal until they pass out, but they might as well be on stationary bikes, going nowhere and screaming all the while.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Hiro_the_Eighth_Samurai

    Chung is saddled with an unfortunate accent — when a friend asks at one point why she’s upset, Chung replies, “Nussing. Iss my problem.” — that doesn’t help much, either. ------ Of course, can't have an actress with the last name Chung speaking in her real-life, American accent. She has to speak in broken "Engrish."

  • jams

    I'M gonna see it,this weekend.
    Do
    you feel so alone when the darkness covered your house?do you wanna some guy
    that can always cares about you to company with you?well come to
    c_o_u_g_a_r_s_t_e_r_c_o_m! it will let your dream come true!jurreg

  • Pookie

    Really guy, “Premium Rush?” this guy is guaranteed Clooney level pussy for the rest of his life and the only thing he has to do is make a decent film every year or two. Not even counting “Dark Knight Rising,” this guy is still living off of the pussy interest he got from “500 Days of Summer.” so what does this guy do his first time out, he makes a fucking movie about some goddamn bike messenger, not a movie about a guy training for the “Tour de France” or something, but a movie about a goddamn bike messenger.

    p.s. I don’t even care if I made grammatical errors, these fucking guys always let top shelf pussy go to waste.

  • BarbadoSlim

    +1

  • Dominic

    Well as u see above hatred /envy disguised as such is still rampant among motorists . Even though most of the job is not as prominent as it used to be ( email means just medicine , other small packages are still in play ) . Strange that as the use of bikes for short trips in urban areas is increasing as a cool cultural thing ( i was grocery shopping on a bike 30 yrs ago it wasn't as cool - esp for women - then ) , that this emotion would still be there for messengers . Remember tho the messenger dynamic is still valid : if he doesn't get to pt B from pt A in the fastest way , someone else gets the job next time , or the job waiting back at the " house " . Next time u get cut off , just thank Jesus ur not risking your life for $5-10 a run , and move on ....

  • bbmcrae

    The qualifications for being a bike messenger are:
    1. Own a bike.
    and
    2. Be insufferable.

  • Uriah_Creep

    When I see something as dull and unmemorable as Premium Rush, I’m
    not upset; I’m sad. I can feel the weight of expectation pushing me
    down as the hope that I’d see something entertaining — even if
    triflingly so — is replaced by the recognition that I’m instead sitting
    through another plastic, dead-eyed movie that goes about its business
    with plodding resignation.

    So well put, Dan. Thank you.

  • dahlia6

    Didn't they already make this movie? But with cop cars instead of bikes? And Bruce Willis instead of JGL? And a half working brain instead of the tadpoles obviously swimming around in the head of whoever came up with this?

  • alannaofdoom

    Premium Rush - the bike messenger action flick that 1994 never asked for.

  • anikitty

    Speed 3: The bikening

  • Rochelle

    "It usually happens as the lights go down, the music kicks in, and a new
    world is created before me out of light. I’m in love with the power of
    them, from the fun ones to the serious ones, and I love watching them."

    Beautifully put. I feel the same way. Which is why I try to stay clear of awful movies with people I like in them - I become enraged until I remind myself that the actor usually has no control over the quality of the final product.

    I saw the trailer for this right after I saw the trailer for Looper. So I went from "Yes!!!" to "No." It just looked intolerably stupid.

  • msjennijennjenn

    I saw the trailer in the theater, so I figure I've seen the movie. Looks a smidge to predictable.

  • plz_thx

    I agree with a comment I saw on another review: it would have been much more interesting if the main character was Tyres from Spaced.

  • Crystal O.

    This is the best idea ever. I would watch the hell out of this movie if Tyres was the messenger!

  • BarbadoSlim

    As far as Im concerned the only story needed about these "XTREME!!!!" messenger types was Quicksilver, starring Jami Gertz (whom I would still hit like the fist of an angry god and twice on Sunday). The other problem is, who really gives a rat's ass about fucking bike messengers? And that goes double when they are douched-up like they look here. Get a real job, bro.

  • hapl0


    In these moments, Koepp freezes time and zooms in on Wilee’s face as the messenger uses a kind of Spidey sense to project possible paths, illustrated with an animated line and an image of Wilee either crashing into a car or person or successfully navigating the fray.

    Ugh. Just...ugh.

    This shit started with Romeo Must Die and it is still going on. It's been 12 years already, it's not cool anymore, just stop.

    Imagine a Premium Rush without all the CG nonsense of a cyclist barely missing a bumper and without a '24' timer because apparently the stunt people are too chickenshit when it comes to cycling and you can't use a watch/clock tower/lunch break horn at a construction site?/crazy hobos screaming what time it is at every corner or change in daylight to demonstrate the passage of time.

    This could have been Cycle but nooooooo...

    And it's downright unethical to waste a crazy Michael Shannon (Take Shelter shout out).

  • Dominic

    BTW tho , that is EXACTLY the way it is . " the messenger uses a kind of Spidey sense to project possible paths, llustrated with an animated line an and an image of Wilee either
    crashing into a car or person or successfully navigating the fray. " Exactly the way bikers see it in their head , altho with more mathematical input ( remember the " if a train is moving at ..." problems ? now u know an application for it ) and with a knowledge of exactly how fast they're going , to complete the math problem , within a half a second or so . Anticipation helps . or correctly analyzing when the crash will occur instead

  • hapl0
  • lowercase_ryan

    Fixies are so gd stupid. and the people that ride them...bleh.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I believe the word you're looking for is insufferable.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    On the bright side, fixies are at least dangerous enough that the idiots riding them stand a better chance of removing themselves from the gene pool.

    Evolution can be very comforting at times.

  • TK

    Word.

  • Dominic

    Ok apparently while u might be bikers , you have never been messengers , or you'd know "fixies " are way cool for Messenging . Admittedly not in San Francisco , but most downtown areas are flat . The no-brakes is dangerous , but MUCH exhilarating , knowing u have to rely on your handling and street analysis skills to not pancake urself into the back( or front ! ) of some vehicle . imagine if the only way to stop your car was to take ur foot off the accelerator - you'd have to plan ur accelerations a LOT better . the main point is less weight ( rear derailluer brake shoes calipers and levers being the heaviest things ) so not necessarily de-evolving , just stripped down and dangerous . This is one of those movies that you probably can't enjoy UNLESS you've actually done what they do in the film . Unless you've ever done a " there's a 1-second gap I can get thru " on-the-spot analysis . I Have . Tho I prefer and will wait for a 3-5 sec gap , as my job doesn't depend on getting from pt A to pt B the fastest way .

  • The Other Agent Johnson

    Nyet. Refusing to spell out words or use proper grammar invalidates your opinion.

  • bleujayone

    So is Wilee's name pronounced "Will-Lee" or more like "Whee-lee"? The second just seems more appropriate given the subject matter and apparent blandness.

  • danielwcarlson

    Like "Wile E." Like the coyote. Yes, this is referenced. Yes, it's his actual name. No, I can't explain it.

  • Do Acme products come into play at some point?

  • idiosynchronic

    If they had, they would have improved the movie twenty-fold.

  • well, you guys have said it all

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