Should You “Rush” to See “Premium”?
Bruce Fretts: My college friend and fellow film critic Arnold Wayne Jones is visiting NYC from Dallas again this week, so I decided to take him to a real Manhattan movie, Premium Rush, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a Big Apple bike messenger. Turns out we were the only ones in a rush to see this movie: It opened at No. 8 at the box office over the weekend, behind the right-wing doc 2016: Obama’s America as well as the sixth weekend of Gordon-Levitt’s other summer release The Dark Knight Rises. The question is: Does this have anything to do with my oft-quoted ode to Ogden Nash: “Joseph Gordon-Levitt/I don’t get it”?
Arnold Wayne Jones: People keep asking, “Why are they remaking Spider-Man and Total Recall?” Why are they remaking Quicksilver? It’s six degrees of Kevin Bacon again. This is a movie that wants you to believe bike messengers in New York City are a really important subculture. But after we saw the movie at a morning matinee in Times Square, I didn’t see a single bike messenger all day.
Bruce: Well, as someone who works every day in midtown, I can say the only line that rang true for me is when somebody said, “Everybody hates bike messengers in New York City!” It’s true. But we’re supposed to like this character, who rides recklessly through the streets of Manhattan, endangering himself and others.
Bruce: This movie was originally supposed to come out in January, but they waited to release it because they thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt would become a big star after The Dark Knight Rises. Well, that didn’t happen.
Arnold: He didn’t become a big star after Inception—or Holy Matrimony, with Patricia Arquette—so what made them think it would happen after Dark Knight?
Bruce: My problem is I still think of him as the kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun. He has no gravitas. I find him completely bland.
Arnold: He’s Robin—the most innocuous of all superheroes. He’s a good supporting actor in a big Hollywood blockbuster, and he’s a good leading character in an indie film, like Brick, Mysterious Skin or (500) Days of Summer. But he cannot carry a big Hollywood movie that depends on charisma, not characterization.
Bruce: For a movie about bicycle messengers racing through the streets of Manhattan, it seemed very slow to me.
Arnold: I was absolutely astonished when I looked at my watch for the first time, assuming the movie was nearly over, and it was exactly halfway over. I was like, “Oh my God, this thing still has another 45 minutes to go!”
Bruce: You turned to me at one point and asked, “Is that actor Anthony Michael Hall?” Which he wasn’t. But you woke me up. And I thought you were making an inside joke about the time I dragged you to see Johnny Be Good when we were in college and I promptly fell asleep. You still haven’t forgiven me for that.
Arnold: I was furious with you!
Bruce: This movie just kept coming to a screeching halt. It’s a simple story line…
Arnold: Simple, yet still hard to follow.
Bruce: I still don’t understand why this cop, played by Michael Shannon…
Arnold: In one of the worst performances this year.
Bruce: I normally love him, but I’m starting to wonder if he’s actually mentally ill. He’s so good at playing crazy characters in Boardwalk Empire, Revolutionary Road, Bug and Take Shelter. Here he seemed like he was channeling Christopher Walken—and not in a good way. He was in a completely different movie, like some Looney Tunes comedy while everyone else was doing an action movie.
Arnold: As I was watching him, I was thinking he’d be a good substitute to play the Joker, and he wouldn’t need to wear any makeup. He’s so fiery-eyed in every scene, it’s hard to imagine his boss didn’t have him committed years ago.
Bruce: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is named Wiley, and they make a big deal out of calling him “Wiley Coyote,” but he’s actually the Road Runner, and Shannon is Wile E. Coyote. He’s practically got smoke coming out of his ears as he’s constantly eluded by the bike messenger he’s trying to keep from delivering a slip of paper that has something to do with gambling debts to Chinatown. At least it was a twist to see a white person delivering something to a Chinese person for a change. And Shannon was more interesting to watch than the female lead, Dania Ramirez.
Arnold: She was easily the least charismatic woman I’ve ever seen in a movie. She’s not especially pretty, and she doesn’t have a name. The least she could do is sleep with Madonna, so she could get some buzz going around her.
Bruce: She was okay on Entourage and Heroes, but I don’t know why anyone thought she could carry a movie.
Arnold: When the opening credits come up and say PREMIUM RUSH, I felt like I was 20 years old again and back in college. Because it looked like something out of the cheesiest ’80s movie. It might as well have said TUFF TURF. I think it was the same font.
Bruce: It really was like a remake of Quicksilver, which isn’t even the best biking movie ever made. I’d say that was Breaking Away. This movie made me want to break away—from the theater, to go see anything else.
Arnold: The way the movie jumped around in time, the writer-director, David Koepp, must’ve pitched it as “Pulp Fiction meets The Fast and the Furious—on bikes.”
Bruce: I thought it was more like Lance Armstrong with even less balls. It got stuck in low gear and just kept spinning its wheels. Maybe it’ll play better on cable.
Arnold: It could not play worse.
Did you race to see Premium Rush? If so, why?