Joseph Gordon-Levitt has hit his stride in recent years. With very solid acting parts in The Lookout, 50/50, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and several other major films, Gordon-Levitt seems destined for bigger and better things with each passing role. They're not all winners though, and case in point, 2012's Premium Rush.
A former law student who didn't want to be tied down, 20-something Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) has created a daredevil reputation for himself as a bike messenger in New York City. There isn't a job that this possibly suicidal rider won't take, but he's in a bit of a spot. As he deals with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), breaking up with him, Wilee is given a delivery job with an extremely strict deadline, delivering a small envelope from Manhattan to Chinatown. Before he can on his bike though, Wilee is confronted by a mysterious, possibly unhinged man (Michael Shannon) who demands the bike messenger give him what the envelope contains. Wilee manages to escape, but now the man is trailing him. What has he gotten himself into?
I remember seeing the trailer for this last summer and thinking two things. One, it looked different and at least a little interesting in a unique kind of way. Two, it looked different....and stupid, really stupid. Let's review. It is different, and the premise is also interesting. Unfortunately, it is stupid. We're talking truly stupid to the point I was laughing out loud at the developing story. An action-packed, adrenaline pumping story about bike messengers sounded promising. The window into that world certainly had some potential, but it completely falls apart basically the second Michael Shannon arrives on the scene. I don't get it at all. I was stunned by how bad this movie was from the acting to the....yeah, just the acting. It's truly bad.
Michael Shannon is a very talented actor with the ability to play a laundry list of different roles. This is not one of those roles. It is an amazingly bad acting job, and it comes completely out of left field. I read some reviews, some message boards and couldn't believe that a surprising amount of people not only liked his performance, they loved it. I couldn't believe what I was watching. Shannon has a....unique?....face to begin with, but with his big old bug eyes and bizarre line deliveries that unique face is taken to a whole new level. There is a difference between hamming it up and/or chewing the scenery, and whatever the hell Shannon is doing here. It is so amazingly bad watching his shenanigans -- SPOILER He's an unhinged NYC detective with a gambling problem END OF SPOILER -- that it had me wondering if I was watching a spoof. Unfortunately, it is dead serious, and it single-handedly ruins the movie.
Director David Koepp (working with John Kamps on the screenplay) tries to do some different techniques to keep things interesting, but for the most part, it feels familiar and forced. Gordon-Levitt's Wilee rides a bike with no brakes and no gears, riding for the ultimate thrill of the job. He's good at what he does, analyzing in an instant which route to take in NYC rush hour. Picture the technique Robert Downey Jr. uses as Sherlock Holmes to analyze and defeat an opponent in a fight and transplant it to the chaotic, dangerous world of a NYC bike messenger. Cool to a point, but by the second or third time we see Wilee analyze an intersection in slow motion, it's beyond repetitive. We also get some "tech angles," seeing the messengers' routes through NYC and Manhattan from above like a Google Map, a colored line outlining the upcoming route.
Doing the best he can with a lousy script, Gordon-Levitt is okay as Wilee. His narration at the beginning and end of the film comes off as cliched and far too familiar, limiting the character to little more than a stereotype. Some of that is the script which is a recurring cycle of people shouting 1. Look out! 2. Move! and 3. Dammit! If nothing else (and I'm truly searching for something here), he looks the part of a bike messenger who gets off on the thrill of the job. Because a bike messenger being pursued by a hellbent individual wasn't enough though, we meet Vanessa, his fiery and recently broken up girlfriend. There's also Manny (Wole Parks), a rival messenger who doesn't like Wilee but likes Vanessa, Aasif Mandvi as Raj, the messenger dispatcher, and Jamie Chung as the young woman who sends Wilee on his hellish messenger job.
Because I feel like I'm devoting far too much time to a movie I truly disliked, let's wrap things up. Clocking in at just 91 minutes, this movie is far too long. We get several odd, disjointed flashbacks that show how everyone ended up in the story, but they take too long getting there. The actual objective of the messenger job is beyond stupid, force-feeding a ridiculous, sappy and out of place message into the story. I didn't have high expectations for this one, but I wanted to at least like it a little bit. It didn't happen. I hated the movie. I can recommend it more as a comedy, one you can watch while doing shots and drinking games. Steer clear otherwise.
Premium Rush (2012): */****