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Ten Word or Less Review: Good movie hiding behind title that sounds like energy drink.

The bike movie.  A small but consistent genre during the 1980’s, the movie built around bicycle riding pretty much dried up once that peculiar decade of synthesizer worship and parachute pants ended.  Movies such as Quicksilver, American Flyers, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure kept audiences entertained with their 10 speed shenanigans.  There’s no basement in the Alamo!  Even in 1979 we saw Breaking Away nominated for Best Picture.  The most iconic movie of the decade features a kid and an alien riding a bike across the sky on its poster.  The bike movie genre even had a subgenre, BMX movies!  Someone ask Nicole Kidman to do a commentary for BMX Bandits.  But as time and technology progressed the bicycle started to seem a little antiquated as a narrative crutch.  Torqued up automobiles and flashy motorcycles were just too much.  Who would pay to see Vin Diesel wreck havoc on a Schwinn?  So the bicycle movie quietly faded into obscurity and hasn’t been heard from until now.

Premium Rush centers on Wiley (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a bike messenger riding wild through New York City.  He lives for the thrill of coasting down traffic cluttered streets, buzzing in between cabs and pedestrians, getting whatever package he has to deliver to wherever it must go, all the while flirting with death and dismemberment in cavalier fashion.  The idea of a suit and a desk are infinitely more terrifying in his speed infused brain.  One day a routine pick up turns out to be far more than the $30 he bargained for.  As soon as he’s got his envelope to deliver in hand he’s approached by a strange cop (Michael Shannon) who starts spinning lies trying to weasel it away from him.  Before long he’s being chased by the determined and increasingly infuriated officer, his life is in danger and the little envelope going to Chinatown becomes an albatross around his neck.  The plot gradually thickens and Wiley (Coyote) must face the fact that he may not live out the afternoon because of the small piece of paper he carries.

Once again studios show they don’t know how to promote anything outside their comfort zone.  If it’s not a movie about demonic possession, inane relationship hijinks or superheroes fighting against Earth’s end they turn into panicked, hand ringing nitwits.  Based on the box office to date Premium Rush has garnered little attention from audiences and it’s a damn shame.  Unceremoniously bumped from an April release and thrown into the dog days of August where so many deservedly wretched crappy movies go to die, all indicators pointed to Rush being a forgettable clunker, but it’s not in the slightest.  Premium Rush is a high calibur chase flick with strong actors giving good performances in service of a tightly scripted and strongly executed story.  Why it has been unceremoniously dumped by its studio is a confusing and pissy move on their part.  Director and writer David Koepp (Stir of Echoes) utilizes a clever screenplay he wrote, a twisty, back and forth editing style and fast, but not too fast, pacing to build a sturdy suspense thriller which should entertain anyone who decides to see it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt again carries a movie on his shoulders with ease and finesse.  I’m not sure there’s an actor working today who seems more suited for big screen success than he who would almost be Batman.  Between Brick, 500 Days of Summer, 50/50 and now this, he’s built up a diverse and impressive resume of quality projects.  The upcoming Looper  looks like a hoot as well.  Being in Christopher Nolan’s good graces doesn’t hurt your career either.  While few may see Premium Rush I doubt Levitt will dwell on its failure for long.  It’s another strong piece in his ever impressively expanding resume and he has no reason to dodge it.  It’s a failure marketing and nothing more.

Playing off him with even greater success is scenery stealing Michael Shannon (Take Shelter).  I take that back.  He doesn’t steal scenes.  They’re his by right to take.  This new king of smoldering freakishness does such hilariously tweaked line readings that he can draw no small amount of laughter from his dialogue, no matter how inane it looks on the page.  His short rif on saying ‘suck it’ is priceless.  Somewhere Nicholas Cage is probably having a fit of envy as this new guy muscles his way into Cages wheelhouse.  Next summers Superman movie may be all kinds of bad but I cannot wait to see Shannon’s General Zod go bonkers on the last son of Krypton.

Premium Rush is the kind of movie there should be far more of.  It isn’t mind blowing or genre defining.  It’s simply disciplined, entertaining, has some wits about it and doesn’t insult the audience by being crass or moronic.  Why so many films have trouble getting to such a place is a larger question for another time.  We have this here and now so ride your 10-speed to the multiplex and see it.  You’ll enjoy it far more than the geriatrics with guns fart fest that is Expendables 2.  Promise.


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