Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been appearing in a slew of movies this summer, including the much-hyped Batman finale and the still-to-come Looper, which looks like it has the potential to be both awesome and riddled with gaping plot-holes. One of the most inexplicable is his latest, Premium Rush.
There’s very little that excites about this one. For one thing, the villain/hero set-up is patently black and white from the beginning. Of course fresh-faced Wilee and his team of impossibly good-looking bike messengers will win the day. You know that from the moment that Wilee confides to the viewer that he hates suits and sitting in cubicles (stick it to the man, Wilee!) And Wilee is on the right side, naturally. On the one hand, you have an angelicly beautiful Jamie Chung (faking an inexplicable bad Chinese accent) fighting to get her son to the States (not illegally, the film hastens to add! ). On the other hand is cop Monday, whose effeminate high-pitched giggle marks him in the same class of villains as the Nazi in Inglorious Basterds and the lawman in Lawless. He owes gambling debts in Chinatown and is trying to get the “ticket”, basically a receipt for $50,000, from Jamie Chung’s character. Completely corrupt and unlikeable, cop Monday is an old-school villain out of place in today’s cinema storytelling, in which the best villains are somehow, disturbingly, compellingly likeable or at least multifaceted. (The only good thing about Savages, for example, were Penelope Cruz as drug overlord and Benicio Del Toro’s as twisted enforcer.)
There are almost no stakes in the movie, which is basically a prolonged, vaguely boring chase scene through various Manhattan streets. It’s so obvious from the first encounter between the hero (JGL’s Wilee) and villain (Michael Shannon as dirty cop Monday) that the hero will win. And *spoiler alert* he does, though in a final scene made silly by a deus ex machina move in which a fat-faced Chinese gangster shoots Monday in the back of the head. Where was this guy in the first place? Before that, a squad of bike messengers rides loops around Monday in a scene that recalls tepid playground taunting, rather than a high-stakes chase through Manhattan’s seamy underworld.
The story of the new immigrant trying to bring her son over from China feels a bit out-of-place in the world of Premium Rush, and this disconnect reveals the lack of punch at the center of the movie’s long, spun-out plot. Worse, we know how the movie will end before it even properly begins. It’s hard to care, for some reason, and it’s even harder to feel the promised rush.