‘Rush’ delivers at top speed
Updated: September 4, 2012 1:37PM
Fixed gear, steel frame, no brakes.
That description (especially the no-brakes bit) applies equally well to the stripped-down, all-or-nothing bicycle ridden by legendarily fearless Manhattan bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an impressively athletic performance) and to the hurtling, breathless, almost reckless momentum of this unconventional and wildly entertaining two-wheeler action opus.
Aptly titled and strategically placed at the end of summer, where action fans are likely to snap up anything, no matter how quirky it may look, “Premium Rush” benefits greatly from the presence of co-writer/director David Koepp, an A-list scripter who has rung the gong repeatedly with his screenplays for “Mission Impossible,” “Jurassic Park,” “Panic Room,” “Spider-Man,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “Angels & Demons” — in addition to smaller, more substantial films such as “Apartment Zero,” “Carlito’s Way” and “Stir of Echoes.” (If you’re ever in the mood for a smart, intense and harrowing supernatural thriller, you could do far worse than checking out “Stir of Echoes.”)
The man knows how to craft compelling, audience-pleasing movies, and that’s evident from the first frames of “Rush,” which shows Gordon-Levitt flying through the air in slow motion and slamming down dead-to-the-world on the pavement of Broadway, before resetting to flashback mode a few hours earlier. The challenge Koepp set for himself was to make a traditional car-chase movie re-imagined with a hero on a bicycle, who’s so accustomed to facing death daily from cabs, civilian motorists and pedestrians that he barely breaks a sweat when a gone-bad NYPD detective chases him from Columbia University to Chinatown in an effort to collect a mysterious envelope.
Wilee (as in Wile E. Coyote) has no idea what’s inside the envelope, which makes it a classic Hitchcockian macguffin, though carefully placed flashbacks punctuate the chase throughout. Basically, those brief pauses inform us that detective Bobby Monday (Serious Actor Michael Shannon, hilarious while chewing the scenery for comic relief, but also switching to violent sociopath just enough to seem genuinely threatening) is a degenerate gambler in debt to the mob, who will only live through the day if he can steal that envelope from Wilee, with its same-as-cash money-laundering ticket worth $50,000.
There are also a couple of sub-plots involving Wilee’s irked girlfriend/messenger colleague Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) who also gets involved in getting the ticket where it needs to be and an increasingly exasperated and comparatively out-of-shape bicycle cop (stuntman Christopher Place) trying to arrest Wilee for assorted traffic violations.
Koepp provides just enough character development to let us know, in broad outline, who these highly determined people are (Wilee, for example, is revealed to be a proudly under-achieving law-school grad) — though he takes care not to give them enough interior life to slow things down. Who cares, after all, why detective Monday went bad or why Wilee is such a self-destructive adrenaline junkie? Koepp knows his “Rush” job is to provide plenty of thrills, a fair number of laughs and a bit of suspense, in that order. And he accomplishes that with expert plotting, dazzling camera work (including Wilee’s split-second collision forecaster which shows every potentially deadly traffic maneuver in slow motion) and 90 minutes worth of death-defying, minimal-CGI stunt work — a good amount of it provided by Gordon-Levitt.
It’s a wild ride; even if it is on a bicycle.