Friday, August 24, 2012

In Theaters: PREMIUM RUSH (2012)

(US - 2012)

Directed by David Koepp.  Written by David Koepp & John Kamps.  Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Aasif Mandvi, Wole Parks, Henry O, Christopher Place. (PG-13, 90 mins)

While never quite crashing and burning, PREMIUM RUSH gets off to such an exhilirating, entertaining start that it feels a little more disheartening than you'd expect when it starts sputtering around the midpoint.  The major problem is that director/co-writer David Koepp (veteran journeyman screenwriter of films as varied as APARTMENT ZERO, JURASSIC PARK, CARLITO'S WAY, PANIC ROOM, and SPIDER-MAN among many others) can't settle on a tone, and has so many balls juggling throughout that he eventually just gives up and PREMIUM RUSH falls victim to what almost every real-time thriller succumbs:  the complete abandonment of anything resembling a plausible time element.  This is an inherently cartoonish thriller, starting with the central character's name, but Koepp plays so fast and loose with time that it becomes too distracting and too ludicrous to ignore.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Wilee, nicknamed "The Coyote," NYC's top bike messenger.  He's a law school graduate who never took the Bar because he thrives on the adrenaline, hates the idea of wearing a suit and working in an office, and just needs to ride!  It's what he does.  Around 5:15 pm, Wilee is dispatched to Columbia University to deliver an envelope from office employee Nima (Jamie Chung), who happens to be the roommate of Wilee's ex Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), with whom he happens to work, to an address in Chinatown by 7:00 pm, which means Wilee must essentially travel the entire length of NYC in under two hours, during rush hour.  With his fixed-gear, no-brake bike, Wilee sees it as a quick job, but things get complicated by the persistent interference of deranged detective Monday (Michael Shannon), who wants what's in Nima's envelope.  This sets the film off on what's essentially one long car vs. bike chase through the streets of Manhattan, and a lot of it is very exciting and impressively constructed, even with some subtle CGI enhancements.  Koepp occasionally pauses the action when Wilee hits an obstacle (red light, taxi door, pedestrian with a stroller, etc) so he can make a split-second decision on which way to go, and for a while, PREMIUM RUSH has the same sort of adrenalized feel of 2006's CRANK.  There's also some inside jokes for movie nerds, with one chase clearly referencing THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and a great running gag with a cackling, twitchy Monday, who's deep in debt to some loan sharks and Triad gangsters and thinks what's in the envelope will bail him out, repeatedly introducing himself as "Forrest J. Ackerman, from the Internal Revenue Service."

But this fun, freewheeling, over-the-top feel is ultimately discarded and the film becomes increasingly predictable and formulaic, and there's simply no way that all of this could take place in the time allotted by Koepp and John Kamps' script. Maybe we're not supposed to notice the bumper-to-bumper rush hour NYC traffic where Monday is still somehow magically able to drive his car beside the bike-riding Wilee at fast speeds while the two engage in back-and-forth smartass banter.  Koepp occasionally has a clock appear on the screen and he'll backtrack to earlier that day, to show, for instance, how Monday got into his predicament.  It's here where the cracks start to show, right around the time one of these backtracks seems to put Vanessa in two places at once. It's established that she's at work, but the script needs her to be back at her apartment in the middle of the workday--packing her belongings, no less, because Nima has asked her to move out, for reasons that have to do with what's in the envelope.  And right about that same time, Vanessa is shown leaving the messenger service's office to go on a delivery.  But the worst is when Koepp expects us to believe that Wilee collides with a taxi at 6:33 pm, and is then placed in an ambulance, driven in the ambulance while having a long conversation with a desperate, enraged Monday, then ends up in the backseat of Monday's car as the two drive to another location...by 6:38 pm?  In NYC?  And about four hours worth of incidents happen before Wilee, of course, just meets the 7:00 pm deadline, and it's already dark outside.  Dark at 6:59 pm, Eastern time?  On what's clearly established as a hot summer day?

At least Gordon-Levitt and Shannon are fun to watch, and Koepp makes effective use of NYC locations.  Shannon, in particular, is having a blast as the more-than-slightly unbalanced Monday in a performance that's fitting for the guy who's frequently been called his generation's Christopher Walken.  It's just too bad that PREMIUM RUSH falls victim to such lazy writing, which is shocking for someone with Koepp's level of experience.  Ultimately, the film's most interesting scene is an outtake early in the closing credits, showing the aftermath of a stunt gone awry when Gordon-Levitt flew off his bike and into the back window of a taxi.  The actor is shown with a gash down his right arm that required 31 stitches (the injury is written into the film, as Gordon-Levitt's arm is wrapped in some of the later scenes), and you can hear Koepp say "I think we better get you to the hospital."  The long-delayed PREMIUM RUSH was shot two years ago (as evidenced by a huge Times Square billboard for the endlessly-hyped, short-lived, and already-forgotten NBC series THE EVENT), and was originally set to be released in January 2012 before being bumped to late summer, most likely in an attempt to capitalize on Gordon-Levitt's supporting role in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

Gordon-Levitt immediately after an accident during filming

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