The only thing that looked good to me this weekend was bike messenger action thriller (yes) Premium Rush whose few shortcomings (Dania Ramirez’s acting; the macguffin being loaded with stakes too high and heartstringplucking for its outcome to be in doubt) are swept away by its many pleasures (geographically clear action photography and editing; real-time storytelling; and the threat of crashes that actually imply physical injury).
Perhaps most joyous of all is Michael Shannon’s dirty psycho cop who is equal parts pathetic, frightening, and comic. He mixes these shades so well (of course) that his would-be cookie cutter villain stands alongside the best interpretations of this type, such as Cage in Bad Lieutenant and Liotta in Narc. For such an essentially non-dramatic film (attempts at emotional scenes notwithstanding) Shannon could have spared the effort but he treats the movie like it deserves his talents, and manages to inflect his character with dark humor without becoming a cartoon (despite his references to such). The film also accomplishes some excellent nonverbal gallows humor in a cyclist’s Sherlockian ability to mentally extrapolate the outcomes of competing route options through cross traffic.
If the film is flawed, it’s because it observes screenwriting rules too closely. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s personal and professional crises align and are resolved right on cue with his primary physical challenges. These may be indulged as affectionate respect for the genre or indeed the form of popular screen storytelling, but these time-honored (viz. box office-tested) conventions become a Trojan horse for one or two cliches in the third act. Naturally the entire bicycle messenger community in Manhattan — except for our clean-cut leads! — are alternative lifestyle Wall Street Occupiers on wheels. And one of Joe’s most deeply held beliefs is the configuration of his Fixie — it’s not a machine, it’s a way of life! Little does he know that while he’s waxing eloquent in voiceover about extreme brakelessness, Fixie don’t care, Fixie laugh! If only the film had careened as breathlessly into unexpected territory.
But these are minor irritants in a film that did more than I hoped it would, which was just to have great, visually intelligible chase scenes.