"Rush" Puts A Premium On Tedium

“Premium Rush” is a thriller that aspires to the airy and sleek stylings of David Fincher’s “Panic Room,” but ends up settling for “gimmicky” and “brain dead,” a la “Snakes On A Plane.” If only it were as knowingly reckless. David Koepp is a veteran Hollywood screenwriter (read: adapter – “Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Spider-Man”), but isn’t nearly as practiced from the director’s chair (“Stir Of Echoes,” “Secret Window”). Koepp wrote the aforementioned “Panic Room” (which was an original screenplay), but its breathtaking visuals and impressive performances were vintage David Fincher. Here, Koepp is on his own and he’s lost in a sea of spectacularly bad decisions.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee (replete with multiple “Coyote” references), a thrill-seeking bike messenger whose boss, Raj (Aasif Mandvi), sends him to pick up a package from a local New York City college. Wilee is a proponent of the “fixie” bike scene – no gears, no brakes, nonstop speed. Lamentably, this is most of what learn about the character. The envelope is received and our hero is immediately confronted by Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a loosely threatening stranger, who attempts to take the envelope. Wilee is painted as a bit of a mischief-maker, but he’s also fiercely dedicated to his job, and spends much of the rest of the film trying to keep the package out of Monday’s hands.

Exposition is a necessary evil of most action thrillers, but it’s usually frontloaded to keep acts II and III moving at a nice clip. Koepp instead decides to jump right into the action and just stopwhen necessary, using a flashback device to go back in time. Some of the tensest scenes are stopped dead in their tracks to show us a ten-minute piece of the narrative that already happened. Making things worse, the villain is all but stripped of his mystery and ferocity in these scenes, and ancillary characters are given uniformly groan-inducing backstories.

It’s impossible to delve further into the story without spoiling some of the never-ending plot twists, but I can say that most of it doesn’t matter because none of the cast members aside from Gordon-Levitt and Shannon can act a lick. The two leads do their best to sell the material, but everyone else appears to have jogged over from the set of the latest “Step Up” movie. However, the climax actually features a bike messenger flash mob, so they sort of fit in. Gordon-Levitt and Shannon can only do so much with such a silly story.

But you want to know about the action, right? It’s mostly palatable, despite some dodgy CGI and an endless stream of painfully generic, instrumental alternative rock. The best chase scene (bike vs. car) comes early in the film, as the music drops out and the audience is immersed in some pretty fantastic sound design. As Wilee dips in and out of traffic, we can practically feel the wind in his face and heard the whir of the pedals. In addition to the flashback technique, Koepp also employs a look-into-the-future device that allows Wilee to foretell the best routes out of tight spaces. It’s just as harebrained as the usage of flashbacks, but it doesn’t divert from the story and provides some pretty spectacular crashes.

“Premium Rush” is probably harmless and it’s vaguely enjoyable at times, but this is massively dumbed down cinema that spoonfeeds viewers who aren’t sure what they want from the film – or any film. If there’s ever been a film less deserving of opening and closing with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” I’m not aware of it. It’s weightless and graceless, complete with a stock love story, a cloying human interest angle, and no shortage of poor acting. The film’s only mystery is why Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon got involved in the first place. I’d guess the paycheck was all right.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: August 24, 2012
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: David Koepp
Screenwriter: David Koepp, John Kamps
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, intense action sequences and language)