Joseph Gordon-Levitt is too cool for brakes. He’s too cool for red lights and stop signs. Pedestrians? Those aren’t cool. He’s too cool for law school too, because being a bike courier? That’s cool.
Get it yet?
Premium Rush is 90-minutes of supposed cool, with Levitt twisting and turning between cars or people to make rapid-fire deliveries for a rundown courier joint. New York photography not withstanding, the film is a bit of a jumpy mess that tries so hard to be colorfully zany, it becomes off-putting.
There is one – one mind you – normal person in this movie. Nima (Jamie Chung) sets up a simple envelope delivery as she panics over what the letter means for her personal life. Her grounded, worrisome style is counter acting the attitude of a steroid-fueled fitness guru, completely over-the-top villain, utterly pointless romance, and Levitt who is too cool for school. Toss in a few more background characters for comic relief, and you’d believe this was a radical BMX movie for the ’90s. Except it’s not, and this is 2013.
Premium Rush is in perpetual motion, one of those movies that cannot sit still even as characters exchange dialogue. It is panning, chasing, swirling, or shaking because of its overactive nature, anything to keep a younger generation locked to the screen.
Narrative? It is threadbare, a point A to point B film with distractions along the way. Much of the important material is left to flashbacks which interrupt the general flow. They are fine when killing time during general travel, not so much when you are unsure of when things are actually happening. The structure is oddball, and told in a manner that lacks consistency.
Setting up the conflict is a hilariously overplayed Michael Shannon, a NYPD detective with a gambling kick who also needs this all-important letter. This is an impossible character, incredibly flagrant with his methods to the point of killing people to get his way, and yet, no one on the force catches on. He will chase after Levitt and his crew helplessly, a bumbling cop if there ever was one, and an absolute embarrassment.
As much as Premium Rush wants to entertain (and keep entertaining), the lack of a stable base of genre cohesion is a killer. Levitt’s super-human bike skills allow him to “see” bike paths, often stupidly comedic with their smashed bodies and accidents. Chase sequences are repetitious up until a stunt-filled chase in an impound lot that would play better in a cartoon. This is all leading to a finale that seems like a b-movie skit until someone is shot and the laughs are suddenly silenced. What a bizarre way to end such a goofy, if happy-go-lucky film.
Despite appearing to be a perfect candidate for digital with all of the street-level stunt work, Premium Rush was surprisingly captured on film. No complaints, just a surprising bit of trivia. All of the fast action and daring near misses poses no fear from this AVC encode which passes through a minimal grain structure without fault. This is a very consistent source, and the compression keeps it that way.
All of the action stays outside during the day, most of the film taking place over the span of a few hours. Sunlight rains down and props up the contrast while black levels go nuts at their peak. Excellent depth is established from the outset, and even when challenged by low light, little is lost. Blacks stay black with a (mostly) total absence of crush.
Pulling it all together is deep saturation, headlined by the red shirt worn by Levitt. That thing is unmistakable and bright. Yellow cabs are everywhere, and brilliantly vivid. Flesh tones are superior to just about anything on the market, color timing merely adding a kick, not trying to achieve any specific end result that would mar this weird reality.
Stack all of that on top of some superb sharpness that pushes definition, and Premium Rush’s unique brand of cinema actually looks fantastic. Enormous amounts of sweaty close-ups offer up plentiful facial detail, and establishing shots are sterling. New York shines here.
So many things are offered to Premium Rush sonically, and it captures all of them. The only real loss is dramatic LFE, most of the low-end pushed through the soundtrack and a brief moment or two of action.
The DTS-HD mix is simply lively. Hearing the air brushing past the riders or cars panning into the surrounds makes for clean transitions into the stereos and surrounds. At 16:25, Levitt begins a trek in the opposite flow of traffic, and the effect of passing cars cannot be missed. Elevated trains will fill up the soundfield, and the city itself feels alive. General conversation is always backed with activity in all channels. Good mix.
The Starting Line is one of two puny bonuses (trailers notwithstanding), following the inception of the project in David Koepp’s head. Behind the Wheels details the action scenes and stunt work. Together, the two combine for a little over 20-minutes of content.