Saturday 15 September 2012
(David Koepp, 2012) As a screenwriter for hire, David Koepp works on big films. Blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible and Spider-Man. As a writer-director he has preferred to work in a much smaller, quieter register; usually basing his films around a clever, high-concept conceit like the blackout that kicks off the action in The Trigger Effect or the heroes sudden ability to talk to the dead in Ghost Town. Premium Rush is no different. It's a chase thriller set in the world of the bicycle courier, a slight tweak in setting, certainly, but one that works due to the wit of the telling. Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the bike messenger as ninja, zipping down Manhattan's concrete canyons between cabs and buses at ridiculous speed on a bike with no breaks and no gears. Koepp does a good job of illustrating Wilee's understanding of the city as a three-dimensional system of movement with some freeze-frame and slow motion work; Wilee weighs up trajectories and possible routes through jams and across moving traffic in micro-seconds then executes his choice with style and suicidal bravery. In the course of ninety pacy minutes, Wilee takes possession of a delivery wanted by the entertainly cartoonish cop Detective Monday (Michael Shannon) who needs to pay off debts to both Chinese and Russian mobsters, and the chase is on. Koepp necessarily complicates the plot to include Willee's relationship with his messenger girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), her Chinese roommate Nima (Jamie Cheung), who has entrusted the delivery to him in the first place, and his rivalry with "roided-out freak" messenger Manny (Wolé Parks). He also sets another cop - a bike-riding officer with no idea what is going on - on Wilee's trail, to mostly comic effect. The majority of scenes take place with the main characters moving at high speed through New York City, meaning that Koepp has to be clever and concise with his dialogue and characterisation. This gives an appealing sense of action as character - we understand Wilee perfectly from our first glimpses of him cutting between cars with an air of smugness (Levitt is fine here but much smugger than usual), and the film only slows down for a couple of second-act flashbacks sketching in some backstory. It's biggest problem is the way it stops and then switches back about an hour in - that and the fact that the bike chases get a little samey the fifth or sixth time around - but it is commendably lacking in any fat or bloat, contains a few genuinely gripping sequences (Wilee evading Monday in a police station in particular), and makes brilliant use of New York City in Summer, depicting the city in all its thrilling, teeming immensity and colour.