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Premium Rush

Premium Rush

Released 14 September 2012
Director David Koepp
Starring

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez
Writer(s) David Koepp, John Kamps
Producer(s) Gavin Polone
Origin United States
Running Time 91 minutes
Genre Action, thriller
Rating 12A
58

No brakes, no plot.

While Premium Rush attempts to provide a frenetic portrait of an audacious NYC bike courier on the run from a deranged and dangerously clichéd corrupt cop, flat characters and a recycled plot prove its downfall, despite some impressive action.

The plot is so thin it’s almost non-existent; foreign student needs to smuggle her son to America from China. Gets involved with some bad people in order to make that happen. Bad people give foreign student a dubious envelope to be delivered to other bad people. Envelope ends up in the hands of gonzo bike messenger. Dirty cop needs envelope to get out of debt with even more bad people and goes after gonzo bike messenger. And so begins the chase, which doesn’t end until the film does and the characters remain the exact same, not going through any kind of arc or development process- leaving you wondering what the point in all that sweat and panting was...

"Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to either". That pretty much sums up Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s courier with a mild death wish, Wiley (Wile E. Coyote, anyone? A subtle hint that this character is a glorified cartoon). Wiley is very good at what he does. He doesn’t ask questions, delivers on time and once your package is in the bag, it stays in the bag. This makes him perfect to transport friend of a friend Nima’s (Jamie Chung) safe pass. But when gambling addicted degenerate Detective Bobby Monday (Shannon) spots a way out of his self-dug hole, he puts a spanner in the spokes for Wiley.

It turns out that nothing is more restrictive to a credible actor than to have their character constantly moving, whether on bike or on foot. This always-in-motion video game element means that we never forge a connection to Gordon-Levitt’s character; he lives in his own world and there’s no time for coffee breaks or other little things like character development. Sequences in which Wiley elaborates on various on-road possibilities that could potentially end in disaster begin to severely grate. Even the consistently excellent Michael Shannon, who always excels in playing villains, has nowhere to go with his cartoonish character. He’s one part Bad Lieutenant’s Terence McDonagh, two parts Elmer Fudd and his boorish exclamations are so over the top they’re not even believable in this artificial video game world.

Obviously, the focus is placed almost entirely on the bike action sequences and to its credit, Premium Rush does produce some genuinely visually arresting and dumbfounding moments, but with a plot this lean it’s almost impossible to be invested in any of the characters or care about their motivations. Another source of irritation is the fact that writer/director David Koepp is predominantly a screenwriter, and quite a successful one at that. Surely he should know that a story should be laid down first as a canvas on which to flesh the rest of the film out? I guess not. But then, Premium Rush is very much a training wheels affair throughout.

What struck me is that this is the kind of generic action caper B-movie that is compulsory for an up and coming star before they score the big roles. So, why is Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing this film now, with a stellar track record of late and the world at his feet?

- Cathal Prendergast