Joseph Gordon-Levitt as America's first hipster-approved action hero.
By Max Weiss. Posted on August 25, 2012, 6:30 pm
True confession: I’m not a big fan of chase scenes. If there was an
expression that was the opposite of “cut to the chase” (“cut to the
nuanced character development”?) it would be my motto.
What’s more, I’ve gotten a little jaded about car chases. I no longer ask myself, “Whoa. How’d they pull that off?” I just kind yawn and think: Closed set, stuntmen, CGI. . . Next!
Which is why it’s all the more surprising—and impressive—that the chase scenes in Premium Rush (dumb title, smart film) were my favorite parts of the movie.
Actually, not just the chase scenes—all the scenes involving our hero Wiley (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on his trusty bicycle. As Wiley bobbed and weaved through traffic, narrowly avoiding collisions, I was mesmerized—and yes, numerous times I asked myself, “How’d they do that?”
Wiley, if you haven’t already guessed, is a bike messenger in Manhattan—in other words, he’s nuts. But even among the gonzos of the NYC bike messenger ranks, Wiley is the craziest. His bike is stripped bare, he tore off his brakes years ago. He has a need for speed, as a certain movie maverick once said—and he thinks braking is the most dangerous thing a bike messenger can do.
In one of the film’s best conceits, Wiley uses his split-second reflexes and vision to assess the variables of any situation. He’s like a running back—if that running back had to negotiate New York City cabs. We see his thought process: If he goes one way, he runs over a baby carriage; if he goes another way, he gets slammed by a car door; but the third way, if he snakes through traffic just fast enough, he’ll emerge unscathed.
Because this is a movie about a bike messenger, we can already anticipate the plot: Wiley gets a package to deliver and suddenly finds himself in danger, shadowed by a threatening corrupt cop (Michael Shannon) and wanted by some sketchy figures in Chinatown's underworld. What’s in the package? And how is it related to the roommate of Wiley’s bike messenger girlfriend?
So much great stuff here. Twitchy, endlessly fascinating Shannon is never a bad idea as the villain and director David Koepp is smart enough to give the gloriously weird actor a couple of scenery chewing moments. There’s an amusing little B-plot involving an earnest bike cop—a real Dudley-Do-Right type— who keeps chasing down Wiley and coming up short. The only slightly draggy part (relatively speaking, mind you) involves Wiley’s rival (Wolé Parks), a jacked up fellow biker in spandex (Wiley’s more of a baggy cargo shorts and tee kinda guy himself). It felt a bit unnecessary. There’s also one suspend-your-disbelief moment, where Shannon’s cop has Wiley in his clutches and inexplicably lets him go. Oh well, no script is perfect.
Gordon-Levitt, as usual, just shines as Wiley. With his hair closely cropped, he looks like a moving bullet and he brings just the right amount of swagger and cocky charm to the role. And while he may not have performed all his stunts, he’s clearly extremely adept on that bike. Gotta love the skinny, smart, hipster-approved Gordon-Levitt. He’s America’s first indie action hero.
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.