I kept telling myself that there had to be more to Premium Rush than it appeared. Part of me couldn't understand how a script about a guy on a bike being chased through New York City could attract the likes of Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon.
It turns out what you see is what you get. The story is as straightforward and silly as it appeared in the advertising. Maybe the actors just saw the fun in the idea. Maybe JGL wanted the exercise.
JGL plays Wilee (yes like the coyote), a fearless-to-a-fault NYC bicycle messenger. We're told that these are the guys you contact when you need something delivered ASAP - when normal mail won't work. One day, Wilee is called on to deliver a seemingly normal package. As it turns out, this package is immensely important to two different people, the girl who sent it and a crooked detective (Michael Shannon) in need of money for vastly different reasons. What ensues are a great number of chases.
I guess Premium Rush is about as exciting as it could have been. I guess it's a plus to say that it's never boring. Director David Koepp actually does a decent job of varying the chases enough that they don't really stale, and splitting them up via some recent flashbacks that also serve as our conduit to understanding the characters and their motivations. The mix of computer generated and actual stunts is also well balanced - some of the film's best moments come in the form of point-of-view considerations of different paths and their respective consequences.
Where Premium Rush really stumbles is in a narrative payoff that is far less than satisfying. The flashbacks hold our interest, yet the reveal of what the package actually contains is really dull. And basically everything that happens in the final ten minutes is laughably cheesy. Some exposition that is literally told to the audience is also noticeably bad.
Keeping the pieces from completely falling apart is a fantastic performance by Michael Shannon as the frantic detective. He's both funny and seriously twisted, always appearing a moment away from completely snapping. Shannon's character also openly recognizes how silly the situation he's found himself in truly is, and it's always nice to see a film of this nature not taking itself too seriously. Gordon-Levitt is likeable as always, yet take away his peddling skills and he isn't given a whole lot to do.
Take away the nostalgic faces (or what's left of them), the nonsensical violence, and the surprising amount of humor, and you're basically left with a terrible film. Actually, strike that, the film is terrible regardless. Fortunately for Sly and the gang, however, there is enough of the former that The Expendables 2 is a lot more fun than I would have ever guessed.
It's always hard to critique a film like Expendables 2 in that it does exactly what it purports to do, which is be an homage throwback to 70s/80s action movies. In other words, it aims to be cheesy as hell. What's unique about Expendables is that many of these actors are recalling their own work. Narcissistic? Perhaps, but more likely because this is basically all they know how to do (I'm generalizing obviously).
Does the story really matter? Stallone's Barney Ross takes his gang of contract killers on a revenge mission to stop a guy named "Villain" (no joke - played by Jean-Claude Van Damme) from selling plutonium stolen in an easy-mission-gone-wrong. Body count = high. Sense made = very little.
Again, it's all so silly I'm really not sure what to say. So many aspects of this make no sense. There have to be damn near a thousand people who are killed, and in many of the action sequences it's not always clear by who. We see Stallone or Statham or Bruce Willis just firing guns and then we're shown people being riddled with bullets and falling over. There are many times where the reaction is "where did they come from?"
Chuck Norris just shows up randomly and kills people, and blows up a tank. Randy Couture speaks maybe twice. One time, the gang walks in slow motion and moments later is flying a plane that we were just told was over a days drive away. Terry Crews has an odd affinity for cooking. Dolph Lundgren throws a random chicken.
I'm making light of it because it's supposed to be made light of. Not all of the action is poorly staged either, with one early sequence involving Jet Li being among the most memorable. The dialogue is so bad and so cheesy that it's obvious it was intentional, with damn near every action catch phrase being uttered at one point or another, most frequently by Arnold.
There is joking between characters throughout, often referencing old age, that is far funnier than you'd expect. It's also somewhat amusing watching several of these guys try to emote through excess plastic surgery. Even Chuck Norris' beard looks fake. The moments that seem aimed at carrying some emotional weight fall completely flat. The Expendables 2 works best when it embraces its corny side.
I hate the phrase "dumb fun," but I can't imagine that being more applicable than here. It's a testament to the film that the near two hour run time flies by.