The cast/crew bit: directed by David Koepp, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon and Dania Ramerez
The ten-word synopsis: Bike messenger must deliver a valuable package whilst being chased
For my money, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the best actor in America right now. He’s versatile, he’s likeable and he’s engaging. He seems to live and breath as each character, adding an believability that very few actors of his stature can craft without seeping into essentially ‘being Joseph Gordon-Levitt’. While he successfully negotiates that trap in Premium Rush, it would have been far too much for him to ask to turn New York bike messenger Wiley into the kind of believable, human character we’ve seen from Gordon-Levitt in the past.
Gordon-Levitt has said in past that he isn’t overly fussed about the cash he’s getting for a film if it’s the best script available to him. You’ll have to believe this, as Premium Rush looks to be done on a budget of a tenner and a packet of crisps. It’s essentially a Fast and Furious film where they couldn’t afford any cars. However, you’ll also have to believe that, in between The Dark Knight Rises and the incredibly exciting-looking Looper, poor old Joe wasn’t being offered anything other than this or a cameo in an Adam Sandler movie. While he clearly gives it his best shot, the dialogue isn’t great and the characters are hardly the greatest-developed beasts. The aforementioned character of Wiley is a bit of an idiot and, where he not played by such an innately likeable actor, would probably be an instant turn-off. We’re lead to believe that he was going to be a brilliant lawyer, and could have any job he wanted, but turned them down because he likes riding his bike. He also removed the gears and brakes from his bike because, in his words, “Brakes are death”. Fair enough.
Probably just over half the film is just characters on bikes. As such, to turn them into ‘proper’ human beings doesn’t sound absolutely necessary, but there are attempts to try and flesh out the characters and develop relationships between them, but it’s impossible to care about. The rest of the cast are functionable, but seem to get lost in the shadows of Big JGL and his lightning bike.
In an attempt to give the film a plot, there’s an antagonist played by Michael Shannon who wants the package that Wiley is suppose to be delivering. After a big chase and multiple near-death experiences, the lad deduces that it’s probably drugs and decides to give up on it because he “Doesn’t do illegal (Ahem) Poo”. So when (Oh, spoiler alert, if you’re really bothered) it turns out that, instead, it’s his grilfriends’ flat mate trying to smuggle a kid into the country into a crate, he’s fine with that. There’s a passing line that says “Oooh, it’s legal because I’ve got a student visa!”. No. You’re trying to smuggle a kid out of China, into the USA, in a storage crate. As a stowaway on a plane. It’s such a woefully thought-out plot that you just can’t help but shiver at the thought of what other scripts Gordon-Levitt was handed. And the film is nowhere near smart enough for it to be an extremely inexplicit social commentary on what crimes and and aren’t right. In fact, the film isn’t really smart at all. It’s a film about a bloke on a bike, and it never pretends to be anything more.
While that probably read in a detrimental way, I think it’s to the films credit. As a bike movie, it’s the best I’ve seen. It has no delusions of grandeur, no need to get too big for its boots. It’s what it is, plain and simple, and to be fair, many of the bike scenes are actually quite good. There are a few great moments as Wiley surveys all the possible routes, with the nasty consequences of going the wrong way playing out. One of these in particular stands out as actually being really funny despite it involving three deaths, one of which a baby, but you’ll know it when you see it. There’s also a sense of speed, which was vital. There’s a chase towards the end of the film that feels a bit flat, but aside from that the it does an incredibly good job of carrying forth the enthusiastic cycling spirit Chris Hoy and co. installed in the British public over the summer.
It’s a mixed (Messenger) bag, really. Gordon-Levitt is always engaging and watchable, but it’s hardly a (500) Days of Summer performance. The rest of the cast seem to exist purely to give Joe some motivation to hop on his bike, and the dialogue is even more superfluous. The time-hopping flashback narrative is needless, although the whole thing is executed with a notable style. The film also feels a good half an hour longer than it is, ironically for a movie so focused on going fast (You could say I was tyred of it! Ha ha ha etc). For fellow Joseph Gordon-Levitt fans and cycling enthusiasts, it’s probably actually worth seeing, but it’s hard to recommend. It’s not ‘wheelie’ a bad film, per say, but quite a bit needs to ‘chain’ge significantly if it wants to ‘clamp’ it’s audience to their seats. I’m sorry, but it had to be done.
5 beer-opening hammers 10