Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of his generations most charismatic actors. He is the center of this glossy, fast-paced film. It's a shame that his charisma couldn't keep the flat story afloat.
The movie follows a day in the life a NYC bicycle messenger Wilee (pronounced like the coyote) who picks up a parcel that he has to take to Chinatown. But a seemingly psycho played with over the top hamminess by Michael Shannon chases him through the streets of the city in a race against time. But Wilee is no ordinary bike messenger. He intentionally quit law school, so we know he's smart. And he rides on a bike with NO gears and NO brakes, so we know he's fearless! And despite this, the movie cannot generate the interest necessary to carry it through.
Some of the visuals are a good deal of fun. Watching Wilee come to a stop without brakes by having to constantly fish-tail is actually a nice bit of visual flair. We also get to see into his mind as he has to make split-second decisions as he weaves through the traffic to avoid getting clobbered by obstacle after obstacle. And in the early parts of the movie, the tension rises nicely, pulling you deeper into the mystery of the package he has.
But then it all falls apart. In order to jump right into the action, the movie skips quickly to the moment Wilee picks up his envelope. In order to understand the motivations of those who are after the package, the script employs a series of flashbacks at various junctures. This actually slows the movie down and I immediately thought back to 2008's Vantage Point, a film that was decent enough but weighed down by its own rewind gimmick The flashbacks in Premium Rush don't help much because the characters are so flimsy.
Shannon's character is so obviously bad that he should be twirling a mustache. And Wilee is such a rebel that there is no way he can ever be outfoxed. Gordon-Levitt and Shannon do what they can with these characters, but it is an exercise in futility. If these fine actors come off badly, then I don't even want to talk about how poorly the supporting cast seems.
Like last weeks review of The Expendables 2, there is less focus on story and more on style. That would be fine, but Premium Rush makes a fundamental mistake opposite of Stallone's movie. Whereas The Expendables 2 built to a conclusion that was an orgy of blood and bullets, Premium Rush starts with lots of slick, speedy cycling. But then the end is such a let-down.
I'm not saying that the end is necessarily silly, but it felt like the writers envisioned something bigger and then gave up. In the movie Gleaming the Cube, Christian Slater gets an army of his skateboarding friends to help take down an arms smuggler. In Quicksilver, Kevin Bacon gets other bike messengers to aid him to do battle with a drug dealer. Both ideas in the film are silly on their face, but it fits with the tone of the movie and it feels right. Premium Rush builds to a crescendo and then stops. It's like someone inhaling right before a big sneeze and then... nothing.
Premium Rush is not a bad movie. But it also isn't a very good one either.