It's currently fashionable - but inevitable - to bemoan the current lack of imagination in Hollywood blockbuster actioners. And, lo and behold, here comes a smart, nifty, efficient example of what the studios should be doing more often: a non-nonsense, old-fashioned over-before-you-know-it thrill ride, co-written and directed by A-lister David Koepp, whose bevy of produced scripts include work for Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds), Brian de Palma (Snake Eyes) or David Fincher (Panic Room). As a director, Mr. Koepp has usually been on the side of these linebacker programmers that every Hollywood studio put out but that have now been consigned to the oblivion of independent or vanity productions (though, on this case at least, major Columbia put up the money).

     Essentially, Premium Rush is a chase thriller set in New York in near real time, with bicycle messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) being forced to evade a corrupt cop (Michael Shannon) who is chasing the package he must deliver to a Chinatown address hoping its contents will pay off a sizable gambling debt. High-concept as it may be (archaic bicycle messenger against the chaotic New York traffic), it is also a refreshingly modest and unpretentious, fast-moving thriller that substitutes actual human effort and relatable characters for the visual effects and outlandish plot points that pass for action films these days. Not that Mr. Koepp and his co-writer John Kamps's script is watertight: my advice would be to not try to reverse-engineer it too much in case the plot holes start showing. But the director's gusto in staging his near-constant action setpieces against a  beat-the-clock tempo masterfully maintained by editors Jill Savitt and Derek Ambrose, as well as his smart decision to cast character actors rather than stars in the main roles, paper over any flaws in the premise so effortlessly that you ought not to worry whether it makes sense.

     Mr. Gordon-Levitt's wisecracking hero and Mr. Shannon's broody villain may be stereotypes, but that cartoonish elegance is inbuilt in the script, suggesting Premium Rush as a highly effective pop movie-cum-thrill ride that Hollywood can still come up with infrequently (think the original Speed, for instance). Also, Mr. Koepp hasn't delivered this effectively as a director since his undervalued, moody Stir of Echoes - we need only remember the hackneyed Secret Window - and he is here much helped by the urban steeplechase setting, turning Premium Rush into a giddy sugar high that maintains its rush for well longer than you would expect.

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Wolé Parks, Aasif Mandvi

Director: David Koepp
Screenplay: Mr. Koepp, John Kamps
Cinematography: Mitchell Amundsen (colour by Deluxe, Panavision widescreen)
Music: David Sardy
Designer: Thérèse Deprez
Costumes: Luca Mosca
Editors: Jill Savitt, Derek Ambrose
Visual effects: Paul Linden
Producer: Gavin Polone (Columbia Pictures, Pariah)
USA, 2012, 91 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room (Lisbon), September 26th 2012


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