17 September 2012


David Koepp is a screenwriter whose name should probably be better known. In the last twenty years or so, his name has been attached to such films as Jurassic Park, Spider-Man and, yes, alright, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. His work as a director, particularly on his previous film, Ghost Town, has demonstrated that he's no hack, but a stalwart writer who reall gets story structure.

This experience is an enormous benefit to Premium Rush, a breathlessly paced B-movie that recalls the kind of exhilaratingly brief thrill ride that we seldom see in modern filmmaking. It centres around Wiley, an adrenaline junkie bike messenger whose fearless pedalling through all manner of potential traffic calamities makes him one of the best working in Manhattan. One eventful evening, he's called upon to deliver an envelope to Chinatown by 7pm, and winds up being chased all over by a hapless cop, Bobby Monday, who's also interested in Wiley's cargo.

I struggle to remember another action film in recent years that is as fast and as funny as this one. Although it's not a high-profile film, or even one that you might otherwise expect to last for much longer than a week in cinemas before DVD and an afternoon rotation on Channel 5, it's really no wonder that it's drawing praise from cineastes such as Roger Ebert and David Bordwell, because it succeeds in all of its B-level ambitions, and far exceeds the usual level of enjoyment that comes with that. Koepp's masterstroke is to pretty much base the film's action on the cartoonish antics of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.

The film makes no bones about the unpopularity of bike messengers in cities like New York, where reckless cycling can cause traffic accidents and injuries to pedestrians, but immediately sets about setting up Wiley, its Road Runner, as a likeable protagonist. Hell, they started that before the film even begins, when they cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor who's really having a superb year. As before, we can only hope that he continues to divide his time in the versatile manner that has seen him perform in 50/50, The Dark Knight Rises and next week's Looper, in the last 12 months alone. Here, he's cheeky, mischievous, and a perfect foil to Monday.

But the real star of the movie is Michael Shannon, whose character's perseverance should surely suggest a loyalty card with the Acme Corporation. Monday is such a cartoon character that he often comes only a hop and a skip from actually deploying dynamite and rocket-powered skates against his quarry, who constantly and infuriatingly outwits him at every turn. Shannon is gloriously watchable as the villain of the piece, utterly incapable of doing right for doing wrong, and boasting a fearsome knack for exacerbating his own situation. His bog-eyed intensity is perfect for such an asshole of a character, who actually turns out to be as old-fashioned as certain aspects of the film, in his inability to control his impulsive temper, allowing him to be seen as a credible and violent threat while also throwing him into hilarious misadventure.

Koepp's pacing largely sets the film in real time, but still unfolds the plot more slowly than expected, on a different gear to the rest of the high-octane action sequences. On-screen graphics handily reminding us of the time when it's pertinent, and ticking back when some of the backstory about Monday, and the deep shit he's in, begin to figure into the plot. It's an incredibly tight 91 minutes that really shows off the writer-director's tenacity for story structure. More than that, the action is very well shot, and even with a multitude of bicycle chases, there's never an incoherent beat. Adding to its dynamism are the clear stakes of the plot, and the strength of the supporting characters, who appear at first glance to be based in broad caricatures and continuously deliver dialogue that's just as snappy as that of the principals.

Put simply, Premium Rush is the best movie that nobody's talking about this week. With a brilliant comic performance by Michael Shannon, by turns menacing and buffoonish, and a stylish, seemingly effortless integrity to its story structure, it's a better action movie than it might have been with absolutely anybody else at the helm. Auteurs tend to make longer movies than this, and potentially pumped too much hot air into the otherwise relentless pacing, and studio hacks don't have the technical or creative aptitude to keep this standard going for even 91 minutes. Koepp is neither, but golly, does he know filmmaking.

Premium Rush is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Premium Rush, why not share your comments below? You know how I've previously remarked upon Michael Shannon's tendency to lose his shit at least once in every performance- that's pretty much his whole character this time around, and it's awesome.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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