Sunday, June 16, 2013

Move over, "BMX Bandits." The Best Bike Movie title is up for grabs: "Premium Rush"

Sorry, "Quicksilver." And "Breaking Away?" I love you, baby, but you're much more class-struggle, coming-of-age than riding-is-my-life. (Dave Stoller, notwithstanding.)

I admit a little curiosity when "Premium Rush" zoomed into theaters last year. First and foremost, we had Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is firmly entrenched in my Benefit of the Doubt Zone. Back in his "Third Rock from the Sun" days, I wouldn't have guessed in a million years that I'd want to see just about anything he's in. But here we are. As a lead, you have "The Lookout," "(500) Days of Summer," "50/50" and "Looper." Plus, he has smartly grabbed supporting roles in big-ticket movies: "Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Lincoln." What's that? "G.I. Joe," you say? I'm sorry ... I have no idea what you're talking about.

Anyway, yes, I'm all aboard the JG-L train. Even if he's a bike messenger being chased through New York by a rogue cop. That's the basic premise of "Premium Rush," and if you think it's as thin as a Schwinn road tire, you're not alone. It doesn't help that the only other name of note is Michael Shannon, who is now General Zod but heretofore was best known for his supporting actor nom for "Revolutionary Road," which a total of zero people have told me they liked. After Shannon, our cast has ... the Indian dude from "The Daily Show?"

So yeah, a mixed bag at first blush. Fortunately, this simple plot comes with a couple of tricks. First, we get some of the good ol' out-of-order storytelling. Not really Tarantino-style, but a little rewind-and-fast-forward gimmick. It helps that our hero is on the clock (which is on the screen) to get a package from Columbia University to Chinatown. As a former NYC resident, I can tell you that's not much fun in any case. But throw in a deadline and a bad guy on your tail, and whoa, nellie.

The other fun visual bit is getting the POV of Wilee, Gordon-Levitt's character, as he makes split-second decisions on navigating his bike -- fixed-gear, no brakes -- through vehicle and pedestrian traffic. A little cute, maybe, but it broke things up nicely.

Finally, the cat-and-mouse between Gordon-Levitt and Shannon works just fine. True, I did wonder (a) why any NYC cop would be driving a Mazda sedan and (b) just how much Mazda shelled out for the product placement; I mean, there are some lingering shots on that car. Even so, both characters show the appropriate incredulity at the situation: Wilee at this cop obsessing over the package, the cop at the fact that he's chasing a damn bike across the city.

I won't profess 100 percent satisfaction with the way things wrapped up, but this isn't supposed to be a move that makes you go hmmm. If I have a quibble with anything, it's that none of these bike messengers had any streamers on their handlebars. Come on, people ... live a little!