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Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 04:01 am

Rush peddles to satisfying, if ludicrous thrills

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Like a modern update of Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (look it up, rent it, watch it), David Koepp’s Premium Rush would have us believe that the bicycle messengers who risk life and limb to make sure that “important” missives get across the Big Apple posthaste are a group of renegades vital to the lifeblood of the city. Don’t believe it – they’re nothing but a bunch of adrenaline-junkies who seek daily thrills while making a pittance weaving in and out of New York City traffic. That a few of them might have a death wish goes without saying. This reckless way of life is perfectly suited for an end-of-the-summer popcorn movie and that’s what Koepp and his crew deliver, a throwaway entertainment that provides its share of thrills and just enough logic to keep us pedaling along with it.

Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the best of the best when it comes to getting crosstown in record time and keeping life and limb intact. He contends that not having brakes on his stripped down aluminum chariot is the secret and while this certainly defies any sort of common sense, it comes in handy later on when it comes time to deliver exciting action sequences. What with his reputation, he’s been requested to deliver an important envelope from one end of Manhattan to the other in less than 90 minutes in the middle of rush-hour traffic. Simple enough, except as soon as he gets the package he runs into Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who’s intent on getting that envelope. He embarks on a hot pursuit of Wilee that will put him, the messenger and many innocent bystanders in great danger.

As far as plot constructs are concerned, it doesn’t get much simpler than this, which is fine as the focus of the film are the elaborate set pieces that find Wilee and his brethren dodging, swerving and careening through traffic, city parks and construction zones. Like most action movie thrills, the ones on display here are composed from equal parts daring stunt work and slick editing. What sets these set pieces apart is Koepp’s old school lensing of them. He knows that true chase thrills consist of holding the camera on the action, not cutting it together so quickly that these moments are incomprehensible. We get the sense that Gordon-Levitt and his costars are truly in peril and that ups the ante considerably. I’d be willing to bet there’s only a very few green screen shots used here. That goes a long way in creating a sense of realism that adds to the peril.

While this is not the sort of film where you usually find performances to praise, it must be said that Shannon is great fun to watch. Like some bastard offspring of Yosemite Sam and Jack Elam, he splutters and fumes through one scene after the next, delivering an increasingly manic performance as his character becomes more desperate to get Wilee’s delivery, the contents of which will help him settle a large gambling debt. Shannon’s command of the screen as well as the narrative construction Koepp employs, in which multiple flashbacks are used so the film consistently folds back into itself, keeps Rush moving at a satisfying and steady pace, zooming past a few glaring plot holes on its way to delivering a satisfying, if instantly forgettable, entertainment.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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