Premium Blend

Over the course of my life, it seems like the majority of movies have split into one of two camps. Either they aim to be a gigantic, buzzed-about spectacle (blockbusters, franchises, Big Important Awards Bait, etc.), or they aim to be an inexpensive throwaway that rakes in a fistful of bucks over the budget (these are your spoof films, your horror schlock, your paint-by-numbers comedies, and so on). It's only fairly recently that there has been a resurgence of the Medium movie, and I'm extremely happy to see it. It can be difficult to define what I think a Medium movie is (and I have GOT to come up with a better name for it), but I know it when I see it. It doesn't have a huge budget. It's far more interested in its story than its stars. It's plot is often very compact. Chronicle was a Medium movie, as was Safety Not Guaranteed, Brick, and the movie I watched last night, Premium Rush.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a bike messenger who gets a thrill out of the freedom and inherent danger of zipping around the crowded streets of Manhattan with a fixed gear and no brakes. After he remonstrates with his fellow messengers (including his on-again-off-again girlfriend Vanessa and Manny, a rival for her affections), he's hired by Vanessa's roommate to deliver a receipt worth $50,000 to Chinatown. The receipt is a MacGuffin, but an effective one. When a gambling-addicted, corrupt mess of a cop (Michael Shannon) is told about it by the loan sharks who hold his debt, he does his damndest to track Wilee down and grab it. By any means necessary.

That's the story in a nutshell, but it's spiced up by some great camera work. Escaping a pursuer can seem simple when surrounded by so much humanity, but in a place as claustrophobic as New York City, it's also easy to see how precisely Wilee must thread the needle to evade his attacker and get the receipt safely to its destination. It's by no means a perfect movie. A lot of film tricks -- shifting timelines, visualization of thought processes, etc. -- are thrown at the wall to see what sticks, and not all of them work. But most of them do, and both Gordon-Levitt and Shannon liven up what could easily have been a couple of rote, stereotypical characters. From what I can tell, Premium Rush never aspired to win Best Picture, and never aspired to be blandly appealing to the masses. It just wanted to tell an interesting story and tell it well, and at that, it did a pretty great job.

Premium Rush: B


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