As someone who loves to drive, I’ve long agreed with my fellow ageing car-freak PJ O’Rourke’s tersely grouchy opinion of bicycles and, by extension, their riders: “Bicycles are childish,” he opined in a 1980s essay, before upping the ante considerably, to “bicycles are un-American.”
Even O’Rourke, however, might change his curmudgeonly tune upon seeing Premium Rush, a very serviceable little bicycle-based thriller, and a kinetic crowd-pleaser possessed of all the honourable B-movie values: tautness and compactness, enough plot to keep you guessing and some impressive stunts and collisions. It also has a time-crunch aspect: bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt must ferry a nondescript envelope across town in 90 minutes, dodging cabbies, pile-ups, and a vicious cop (Michael Shannon) with “impulse-control issues”.
Although it’s not strictly speaking a real-time movie, the time-crunch does put one in mind of other no less enjoyable bubblegum thrillers like Speed, Nick Of Time and Phone Booth. That list is also reminiscent of the good choices Gordon-Levitt has made in transition from child star to movie star.
He likes B-thrillers and thoughtful dramas. Some of his movies, like The Lookout and Brick, are both, while Mysterious Skin, Stop-Loss and (500) Days Of Summer prove that he either gets the first look at the best scripts, or that he just has excellent taste in projects (much like Michelle Williams). It’s nice to see, even as he ascends into superstardom, that between mega-projects like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, he’s happy to squeeze in smaller projects like Premium Rush and 50/50.
Compared to a lot of these movies, Premium Rush is like a day-off, a good-time movie for all involved, including, thankfully, the viewer. One link with Speed can be found in Rush’s villain, played by Michael Shannon. Shannon’s work has always been interesting, from his sexually repressed T-Man in Boardwalk Empire to his Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road, but here he tries something like menace plus comedy, and the result recalls Dennis Hopper’s over-the-top villain in Speed. That’s a dubious compliment, I realise, since Shannon is a fine actor and Hopper, to my mind, was a terrible one. But as the only player on screen who’s really working up a sweat (as a thespian, that is, not as a cyclist), it’s odd that he finally should come off – as Hopper often did – so much like one of the guys they pull the masks off at the end of Scooby-Doo.
Top-table screenwriter David Koepp directed, and on the basis of this and his creepy ghost thriller Stir Of Echoes, he should write less and direct a lot more, because who really needs Jurassic Park 4? In the meantime, though, bicycles just became marginally less childish and un-American.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.