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Shannon, Gordon-Levitt Elevate 'Premium Rush'

Shannon, Gordon-Levitt Elevate 'Premium Rush'
8/24/2012 4:52 PM ET

If you don't think a movie like "Premium Rush" could possibly have much to offer, you won't be the only one. Even with a silly premise and some distracting leaps in logic, director David Koepp's "Premium Rush" is taut and often exhilarating, with standout performances from leads Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon and a smartly written script that understands what's expected. Now that the more serious summer action films have come and gone, "Premium Rush" is the perfect light thriller that doesn't get weighed down by taking itself too seriously.

Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) has a job that most normal people couldn't handle for a morning. While the digital world has made sending files and information as easy as an email or a text message, the busy world of Manhattan still occasionally needs to move physical materials from point A to point B - and fast. When a package has to make its way through nightmarish New York City traffic in no time or less, Wilee has the type of biking skills that you want on your side. Ever wonder who those insane bikers are that weave in and out of traffic to the bane of the rest of the civilized world? Wilee is that guy, and he wouldn't trade his job for all of the money on Wall Street.

When a guy is willing to run red lights and risk getting splattered by delivery trucks for $80 a day, clearly he's not the type who gets thrilled by the usual lifestyles of other guys his age. After nearly taking the bar exam, Wilee has watched his school buddies head off into the soporific legal world, where Wilee believes they will waste away with a mundane existence not worth living. Instead, Wilee just focuses on one package delivery at a time, his life a never-ending death race that is pure adrenaline and kinetic energy. His girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), who is also a bike messenger, is a little more realistic and cautious, but she sees in Wilee something that she's not going to get from the other guys on the street.

Though Wilee is typically disinterested in what he's carrying on his back every day, and less interested in answering questions of why he didn't take the bar exam, he soon gets wrapped up in a predicament that is over his head. When he signs on to deliver a note from the mysterious Nima (Jamie Chung), Wilee is soon thrust into a complicated situation that makes his job even more dangerous than normal.

Standing in his way from delivering the package is Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), an amoral cop who has a quick temper and bad gambling addiction. Though Wilee would love to just deliver the envelope and move on with the rest of his day, he's suddenly whipping through the streets with Monday close on his heels. Instead of the usual bad guy routine, Shannon plays Monday as a desperate degenerate with more than a few screws loose, not as a guy who has been locked away studying speech patterns of action movie villains. While many action movie bad guys are diabolical and somber, Monday is much more terrifying because he's a loose cannon with no real plan. After being a standout in psychological thriller "Take Shelter" and HBO's excellent series "Boardwalk Empire," Shannon seems to have fun playing his deranged madman, and "Premium Rush" is all the better for it.

With Shannon providing the right counterpoint for a cat-and-mouse chase through the city, Gordon-Levitt also excels as a young man who would rather crash into oncoming traffic than suffocate from boredom. Gordon-Levitt's gift, as with many of the most talented actors around, is that he doesn't have to try to be cool to be exactly that. Wilee isn't as well-rounded or developed as Gordon-Levitt's characters from flicks like "500 Days of Summer" or "Brick," but he proves that he can take the reins of an action movie and be an easy hero to root for. Pick a different actor for Wilee and he might have come off like just another pompous jerk getting in the way of traffic.

But that's not to say that "Premium Rush" gets it all right. Though much of the action is well-crafted and necessary, "Premium Rush" does get a little too cute with the bike tricks and occasionally breaks cleanly from reality, which wouldn't be an issue if the movie didn't attempt to make everything feasible. This type of fantasy world, of course, would mean that the job is more dangerous than king crab fishing, but everyone seems pretty chipper that everything will make it out all right. Wilee's girlfriend Vanessa is also just tossed into the plot almost at random, making it difficult to care at all about a romantic subplot that isn't developed or even necessary.

Even with its blemishes and close adherence to the thriller formula, though, "Premium Rush" is a fun B-movie that doesn't try to be anything else. With a better bad guy than anything the "Fast and the Furious" franchise has had to offer, it also turns out to be much more entertaining than movies of this sort typically are. At only 91 minutes, "Premium Rush" is lean and well-made, a nice little jaunt into escapist filmmaking that works better than the materials suggest.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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