Review by Pete Roche
QUICKSILVER with Kevin Bacon?
lay over 2,500 miles from New
York as the crow flies (or cyclist rides), there’s
less than six degrees of separation between Bacon’s brash day trader (and
Daltry’s “Quicksilver Lightning”) and Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s jaded adrenaline
junkie (and The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”) in PREMIUM San
Levitt (INCEPTION, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) is Wilee, a
law grad who ditches cubicles, courtrooms, and “grey suits” to pedal high-priority
packages around Columbia University on a
“fixie” bicycle with only one gear. Manhattan
We never discover why Wilee didn’t take the
bar examination, or why he ever wanted to become an attorney in the first
place. One suspects, given his
occupation, that his parents covered the tuition (or are stuck paying the
loans) and can’t be pleased with his new gig.
Wouldn’t you be pissed if you
incurred a hundred-grand debt so your 25 year old could breeze through an Ivy
League school, only to refuse to test for his professional license upon
graduating? New York State
It’s just one of many laces director David Koepp doesn’t bother tying during
brisk ninety minutes. Renowned for crackerjack
screenwriting (SPIDER- MAN, JURASSIC PARK,
MEN IN BLACK 3), Koepp draws in viewers with a deceptively simple plot calling
for Wilee to transport an envelope across town at the end of a hectic business
day in ninety minutes—with several cops (good and bad) giving chase. Indeed, the action begins in medies res, with our first glimpse of
the hero being a slow-mo shot of him going airborne after an accident.
But then Koepp backpedals, leaving Wilee on the pavement to flesh out the movie’s villain and token girlfriend. We get some exposition on bike messenger culture—their lingo, their need for speed, their reasons for carrying oversized chains despite the extra drag they must cause (the couriers use them to vandalize cars who cut them off). They speed through major intersections while blue-toothing each other with news, gossip, and friendly barbs. There are young messengers and old ones, and they share a special solidarity—even with bikers from rival agencies—because of the precarious (and time-sensitive) nature of their work.
Koepp then plays catch-up to Wilee’s opening fender-bender, but the non-linear “flashbacks” aren’t necessarily jarring because he provides fresh info in scenes that pick up on ones we saw minutes earlier, albeit from different angles. The devil’s in the details, and we’re left wondering why the protagonist wastes his time at a vending machine when moments ago he scarfed down half a veggie wrap. An early offhand remark about Wilee’s talent at “trick” biking pays off later, when he does a bit of bicycle Parkour at an impound lot—but
is rife with dead-ends and “clues” for things that never materialize. We’re lead to think it’s significant that
Wilee’s pickup point is his alma mater, when instead it’s just another coincidence
manufactured to hurry things along. Same
with the connection between Wilee’s girl and his current client; there’s a
nexus, but it’s insignificant.
Wilee’s love interest (Dania Ramirez) and competition (Wole Parks) think he has a death wish, but nothing ever surfaces to suggest our boy has real mental issues. Will this misadventure force Wilee to mend his daredevil ways and perhaps take up law again? We’ll never know. Wilee just wants to ride, man. Be free. He’s even disabled his brakes to ensure he’s always looking for the optimal route ‘round whatever obstacles lay ahead.
His dispatcher is Aasif Mandvi, who played Peter Parker’s pizza delivery boss in SPIDER-
2. So I expected Mandvi to fire some
poor messenger and rip the sticker off his helmet. We aren’t shocked to hear Wilee is the best
at what he does, which is why one troubled client tells Mandvi to send him for
her precious cargo.
Wilee zings past taxis, slides under semis, rockets off staircases, and ignores red lights. With his buzz haircut, red tee, and biker shorts Levitt certainly looks the part of an avid cyclist. Wilee favors sophomoric taunts like “douche bag” and giggles like a toddler when outfoxing pursuers, but he’s otherwise likeable and sympathetic enough. Still, we feel for the NYPD biker cop Wilee dupes repeatedly, even as we’re laughing at him.
Some of the film’s eye-candy (and laughs) arrives when Wilee visualizes his navigational choices; we get to see his options play out before he steers. Go this way, and he’s likely to hit a mom pushing a baby stroller. Go that way he’ll wind up a hood ornament. At one point he makes a crucial turn based on glass window reflections of the otherwise invisible dangers ahead. Koepp also provides some NFL-like computer graphics to chart Wilee’s progress through the congested metropolis.
of Manhattan’s skyscrapers give scope to the mission, and a digital clock
occasional that pops up now and again impresses just how long (or not) he has to
travel X blocks. A handlebar cam helps us see from the cyclists' POVs.
Desperate Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) makes a goofy entrance. His eyes are wild and his voice is cartoonish (
Shannon will make an interesting General Zod
in MAN OF STEEL), which makes for some
snappy dialogue when he plays the “I’m a cop!” card with the Chinese mobsters
he’s indebted to. Shannon
effectively spins Monday’s predicament into a convincing and twisted
malevolence. He apologizes when he accidentally
beats one man to death—but then inflicts pain mercilessly on another.
After a summer saturated by actioners where the fate of an entire city (DARK KNIGHT RISES, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN), nation (HUNGER GAMES), or even an entire world (AVENGERS, JOHN CARTER) hangs in the balance, it’s refreshing to watch an old-fashioned chase movie whose outcome matters only to a couple ordinary people, and whose good guy does what he does not because he must, but because he chooses to stay involved. Wilee could surrender the package at any time and just go home, but knows he wouldn’t be able to sleep once he got there.
Heroes keep pedaling. Even when they’ve got no brakes.
2 ½ out of 4 stars.