Premium Rush: Adventures in Bicycle Messengering   1 comment

“Do kids go on bike rides anymore?” – Marge Simpson
“Yes.” – Lisa Simpson
“I don’t know, I thought maybe bikes weren’t cool anymore.  Do kids still use that word, ‘cool’?” – Marge Simpson
“Yes, Mom.” – Lisa Simpson

Top Line: Premium Rush is basically a bicycle messenger fairy tale where the cops never use their radios (except that one time when the plot needed them to), all the crashes result in only minor injuries, and there is nobody cooler or more capable than (mostly) young New Yorkers on bikes.  However, it is a very well done fairy tale, with plenty of action, no throwaway characters, excellent stunts, and enough comic relief (of various kinds) to keep things lighthearted throughout.  (Which is good, because if this movie had taken itself seriously it would’ve sucked.) 

Who (probably) should see this movie: New Yorkers near and far, bicycle lovers (though I’ve no idea how real bike messengers feel about it), and anybody in need of an entertaining hour and a half in front of a screen.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Safety conscious pedestrians and drivers, New York cops, people who aren’t in need of an entertaining hour and a half in front of a screen.

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:31m – The story is a little flashback heavy, but does a fine job of keeping things moving and doesn’t feel longer than it is. 

Actual Start Time: +17 minutes from showtime

Rated: PG-13 – Enh, seems about right.  The most blood in the movie is from footage during the credits of a real crash that happened on set.  The language is very tame, a couple of “shits”, “suck its” and “douchebags”, but nothing out of the ordinary for cable television.  
Three Stars:

  1. Michael Shannon – Nasty, Gambling Addicted Cop:
    Could be playing the great-grandson of his tightly wound federal agent on Boardwalk Empire.  He brings a believable fury to the role of a guy who has been in over his head for a long time and finally finds himself sinking deep.  Book him some more villain roles, Gary Oldman is getting a little long in the tooth for this shit.
  2. Aasif Mandvi – Fast Talking, No Bullshit Dispatcher:
    Steals every scene he’s in.
  3. Dania Ramirez – Bad Ass Bicycle Messenger:
    This could’ve easily been Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Wolé Parks, all three of them are believable as hard driving bike messengers with varying levels of adrenaline issues.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +2 Cool stunts and chases always look better big.
  • +1 August is almost over, and this is one of the last shiny summer movies we’re getting before things go dour for autumn. 
  • -1 It’ll look almost as cool on a decent flatscreen.

Final Score: 4

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 Has a great sense of place in showing Manhattan as being more than skyscrapers and dickheads in suits.
  • +1 Is so gentle in terms of violence, blood and language that they won’t need to cut much out when this lands on basic cable a year from now.
  • – 1 It’s a late summer, PG-13 movie about bike messengers.  Unless you know one or are one, it’s doubtful you’re going to be left out of a lot of conversations for not having seen this.

Final Score: 6

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +5 Passed the Bechdel Test!
    There’s only one full scene between the two major female characters, but there is one, and neither of them is a willowy girlfriend type who doesn’t do anything.  Both of them are smart and good at what they do.

Final Score: 10

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • David Koepp:
    He’s spent more time behind the keyboard than in the big chair, but he’s got some capable movies to his credit.

Writer:

  • Also David Koepp:
    Has written (in one way or another) such memorable movies as Jurassic Park, The Paper, Mission: Impossible, and the first Tobey Maguire Spiderman.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 72% Top Critics: 78% Audience: 78%

Notes:

  • It wasn’t something you’d expect from the trailer, but it has a great story.  New York City isn’t in danger, no atom bombs are going to go off, there’s no shadowy conspiracy, and no one got assassinated before they could hand over the secret formula, but the stakes are still high (life and death, even), the plot is reasonably tight, and the characters don’t need to be over-the-top silly to add some punch to things.  No one ever has to say, “Shit just got real”. 
  • The romantic subplot is well buried, believable, and doesn’t get in the way of the main story at all.  This is a rare thing and deserves praise. 
  • The “Gordon-Levitt turned his back on white collar work to ride bikes” subplot is left mercifully unexplored. 
  • The movie spreads its numerous flashbacks out well enough to keep them from becoming too distracting. 
  • There isn’t much in the way of overt cheese or beefcake, but all the bikers (male and female) are in good shape and spend their time wearing tight and revealing clothing.
  • The ticking clock gimmick does get a little tiresome, but it’s not terrible.
  • Ditto the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes thing where Gordon-Levitt sees his plans unfold before they actually happen. 
  • A short way into the credits is footage of the aftermath of a crash Gordon-Levitt had with a taxi cab.  Wikipedia tells me it required thirty-one stitches.  I think it’s there because a) how often do you get to bloody your movie star and he’s not pissed off about it? and b) the movie gets funny after awhile with how often they cut between Gordon-Levitt, Parks, and Ramirez riding toward the camera and talking before cutting to a rear view of a person whose face you can’t see doing the really impressive stunts.  The bloody arm is proof that the stars really did ride the bikes some of the time.
  • Speaking of the stunt work, it is excellent.  I sort of think a police impound warehouse wouldn’t actually be quite that well setup for X-Games antics, but who cares? 
  • There is either very little CG or no CG.  They crashed a lot of bikes and a couple of cars making this movie, and bless them for that. 

Bottom Line:

Premium Rush is a very good genre movie with plenty to occupy its relatively short runtime.  Unlike so many other mid-budget action movies, the script doesn’t slow things down or make you shake your head, and unlike so many other movies putatively set in New York City, this one actually has lots of non-white people in it so there’s no mistaking “New York” for a few blocks on the Upper East Side. 

The stunt work is phenomenal, the cars and bikes really do get crashed, and there aren’t any cheeseball scenes where Gordon-Levitt has to save his girlfriend or the music swells as a minor character makes a tragic sacrifice.  The trailer actually sells the story short for once. 

Michael Shannon is fantastic as a rage prone cop with a terrible gambling problem that pushes him to extreme behavior that even he knows is going to get him into trouble.  He’s a far deeper and more interesting villain than movies like this usually bother to create, and the gangsters he deals with aren’t central casting meatbags. 

Similarly, our assorted gang of tough, streetwise bike messengers all fit well into their time and place.  They have cool phones and cool skills and a cool job and they hang out at a cool bar with other equally cool people, but they’re also still regular people working a job for a paycheck.  A movie like this isn’t designed to make half a billion dollars and move mountains of merchandise, but it’s very good for what it is. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Premium Rush:

Chasing Mavericks – Coming of age surfer movie with Gerald Butler as the wise surfer veteran.  The trailer actually contains this dialogue:

What if you’re wrong?
What if I’m right?

Feh.

Pitch Perfect – Another hyper-cultural singing/dancing team sport movie. 

Paranormal Activity 4 – Honestly, I thought they were only on 3.  Guess I missed one, and this looks just as miss-able. 

Sinister – Is there a haunted house with an unsuspecting family living in it?  You know there is. 

Here Comes The Boom – Kevin James plays a high school teacher who learns mixed martial arts to raise money and show the kids how to believe in themselves.  Yikes. 

Looper – Premium Rush himself plays the younger version of a time traveling hitman.  The older version is played by Bruce Willis and this was written and directed by the consistently excellent Rian Johnson.  Yes, please. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

One response to “Premium Rush: Adventures in Bicycle Messengering

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  1. Cool if it’s not your thing, but in all fairness I don’t think there actually are a lot of other singing competition movies. I certainly can’t think of any off the top of my head. And I don’t think Pitch Perfect is just a dance movie where singing is substituted for dancing, as the formula for those is almost always some sheltered person being introduced to “the streets” and the magical meld that happens. Pitch Perfect looks much more “this is what college is like for girls and the plot is pushed by a capella.”

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