Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Premium Rush": Bike messengers work for a living (and take a lot of risks)

We’ve had bicycle road racing movies before (like “American Flyers” and “Breaking Away”), but I can’t recall an action picture based on the life of a bicycle messenger, before “Premium Rush”, from director David Koepp for Sony-Columbia Pictures.

And this is one of those unifocal 90-minute movies based on a single precept, single form of activity. We see the athletic and likeable Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) apparently doing his own stunts, evading traffic and pedestrians, and engaging in all kind of bad behavior on the streets of Manhattan. 

The background is that of a short story, not novel (remember literature class).  Wilee has to deliver a mysterious envelope that has attracted the attention of a rogue double-dipping NYPD cop (Michael Shannon) who is pretty persistent as the villain. There’s a backstory about hawala and a need for an immigrant to get her daughter into the country. It occurred to me that most bike messengers probably work as process servers, too. 

Really, I think that bicycles should be treated as vehicles and follow the same laws as the rest of us.  That means no going through lights (drivers have to pass them repeatedly), and particularly no riding the wrong way (because right-turning car drivers can’t see them in time).   

Gordon-Levitt, 30, looks perfect in the role, although he now has a widow’s peak in his buzz cut (when he’s not wearing the helmet). No, he didn’t have to shave his legs (you can’t tell until the ambulance scene) – he was luckier in that regard than Kevin Costner in “American Flyers” back in the 80s  (April 25, 2011 here).  In D.C., most messengers "do" -- but does wind resistance really matter?

The official site from Sony is here

Have no fear, this film definitely earned the "Made in New York" badge. Xavier High School on W 16th St is one of the filming locations.  I found I was quite unfamiliar with the Chinatown streets.

For today’s short film, we turn again to bicycle safety in Manhattan, for a film showing cyclists for about three minutes at a busy Manhattan intersection videotaped from a nearby apartment balcony. The film is “3-Way Street” by Ron Gabriel (2011), on Vimeo.  It ought to be shown in a shorts festival.  

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