MOVIE REVIEW: Premium Rush
PREMIUM RUSH-- 4 STARS
If I could lay naming claim to a new sub-genre of action movies, it would be something I would call "kinetic movies." They are films that are always on the move in some way, shape, or form, from their cameras to the their characters. Kinetic movies have a pace and tension that are busy and relentless, but not brainless or over-the-top. That eliminates anything by Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, the Wachowskis, and even something like John Woo's Face/Off. In addition, horror movies, or even a thriller like The Grey, from earlier this year, which rely on some form of creeping and quiet menace can't be a kinetic movie. They "snap," but are not "snappy."
What separates kinetic movies from other action films is a sense of time and purpose. Time is the number one element. Slow-boiling build-up isn't fast enough, unless you are Memento with its short-term memory pacing. Kinetic movies are out of the gate fast and work with a deadline in mind, without lag. That eliminates the overly-talkative Quentin Taratino and Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, longer epic adventures (Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, etc.), and even most James Bond films which cover several weeks. Things in real time or someone's "one crazy day" or "one wild night" stories are perfect. Primarily single-setting movies like Panic Room or Red Eye aren't good enough. You've got to move.
Finally, kinetic movies are crafty enough to bring us into their rapid pace without exhausting their good ideas in the first hour. They deliver a solid pay off that doesn't drift into predictability or nonsense. One good car or foot chase is not enough. Sorry Ronin and Bullitt. The last hour of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is perfect, but the first half kills it. You've got to put an entire movie together that moves. If TV's 24 were a movie, it would be perfect.
Off the top of my head, the pantheon of kinetic movies starts with classics like the the first Speed and any of the Die Hard, Bourne, or Mission: Impossible franchise entries, including last year's Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol. Other movies worthy of classification include Taken, Vantage Point, Kung Fu Hustle, Breakdown with Kurt Russell, Nick of Time with Johnny Depp, Snake Eyes with Nicolas Cage, Behind Enemy Lines with Owen Wilson, Tron: Legacy, The Rundown, Steven Seagal's Under Siege, The Fugitive, Crank, and last year's brilliant Source Code. If I forgot any, you're going to have to comment and let me know.
One of the most perfect examples I've seen for a kinetic movie is the new release Premium Rush, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and directed by David Koepp (writer of a few of the movies listed above like Snake Eyes and the first Mission: Impossible). Levitt plays Wilee (pronounced and characterized just like the Coyote on Looney Tunes), a daring New York City bike messenger who works all routes and shifts from paycheck to paycheck. Unlike many of his 1,500 peers with ultralight and souped-up carbon fiber hybrids, Wilee rolls a simple all-steel frame with no gears and no brakes. The only speed is GO and the only way to stop is the hard way or, as he say, "runnin' reds and killin' peds."
Clinging to a relationship with his hot fellow messenger Vanessa (the sexy-sweaty-and-fit Dania Ramirez of X-Men: Last Stand) and constantly competing with Manny (newcomer Wole Parks), another studly co-worker, Wilee rides on the edge, at the peak of speed, and takes on all jobs and obstacles with cunning fearlessness. When his dispatcher Raj (Aasiv Mandvi of The Office) assigns him an end-of-the-day "premium rush" job for Vanessa's roommate, Nima (Jamie Chung of The Hangover Part II), it turns out to be no ordinary delivery. The contents of that simple envelope have become very important to a crooked NYPD detective Bobby Monday (the always-flustered Michael Shannon of Take Shelter). Like a good deliveryman true to his job and respecting protocol and confidentiality, Wilee brushes off the pushy Det. Monday, but that provokes an all-out chase across the city with a 7:00PM deadline hanging over both their heads and labyrinth of cops, traffic, accidents, and competitors in the way.
Premium Rush is a tightly packed and nicely paced little New York thriller. While the story is essentially a simple "beat the clock" scenario that maybe we've seen before, it offers decent twists to keep us guessing and clever plot-essential rewind flashbacks to provide exhale time and "ah-ha" wisdom of our characters' back-stories. Premium Rush also blends some clever GPS-style map graphics to give this story literal scope and direction. At just over an hour-and-a-half, it wastes no time and doesn't drag on too long at all. From an acting standpoint, we know both Levitt and Shannon are better than this kind of material, but they are still fun to watch at this level.
What really makes Premium Rush a new kinetic movie is the movement. You wouldn't think a movie with pedaled bikes could be better than the motor-powered chases of something like The Bourne Legacy, but this is. The reckless abandon of the characters on-screen matches that of the camerawork and stunt work behind-the-scenes to weave in and out of crazy NYC traffic. Like the breathtaking underwater and on-the-board camerawork of a surfer movie like Blue Crush or last year's Soul Surfer, the "whoa" moments with the speed of these bikes and the obstacles around them add up in a hurry and the CGI seams (if any) are hard to spot. More often than not, it's JGL himself doing the heavy pedaling and you are by his side or on his tail most of the way. He's got 31 stitches and a smashed rear window of a cab to prove it (stay into the credits to catch a gander at that real-life injury). Nice work!
LESSON #1: BRAKES ARE DEATH-- This little gem is Wilee's personal mantra for the way he rides. He says the worst times he's been hurt are from situations with the brakes. I don't know if the National Safety Council would agree with him on that mindset. At least he wears a helmet, and you should too, kids!
LESSON #2: DON'T GAMBLE WITH CHINESE PEOPLE-- What has Michael Shannon's dirty cop in hot water is a gambling debt from mitt-job domino game. Now he's on the hook for money he owes to people who don't care that he's a big-mouth shield-wearing cop. Don't play a game in a language you don't know or speak. Stick to BINGO or something.
LESSON #3: THE PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT OF DELIVERY PERSONNEL-- Wilee and his people occupy a more extreme version of Tom Hanks's FedEx character from Castaway. Be on time, be polite, and be safe to both yourselves, the people around you, and your cargo. They are the opposite to Ace Ventura's deliveryman. Most important among their responsibilities is to see every job through to the end. Wilee, as reckless as he is, has that level of honor and professionalism.