Mini-Reviews: Premium Rush and Robot & Frank
If there are two notable rarities in summer action film nowadays, they are (a) a reluctance to rely on CGI, and (b) intelligent storytelling. Premium Rush isn’t breaking the mold storywise– a man delivering a package comes to find out other parties are interested in stealing the package from him– but its time-hopping structure keeps things fresh and its frenetic pace prevents the possibility of boredom. David Koepp’s direction (his last film was the woefully underrated Ghost Town) helps emphasize the speed and high stakes of bike messengers– they’re all one incorrect brake or one opening taxi door away from serious injury or death, giving the action the same credibility as car or plane pursuits. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dania Ramirez are the 0%-body-fat leads clearly doing much of their own biking, but the real star here is Michael Shannon, whose eyes bulge and teeth grind with the pressure of finding this package before its delivery. He giggles nefariously when he thinks he’s succeeded, which just makes his inevitable failure all the more enjoyable. A credible threat mixed with the right blend of scenery-chewing, Shannon is the essence of a summer movie villain. Premium Rush captures the summer movie essence too: no deep messages, just quick thrills and laughs executed capably.
Robot & Frank:
Frank Langella could read the phone book and it would be compelling. Occasionally he’s stuck in supporting roles with mediocre writing, so it’s great to see a vehicle worthy of his talents. Robot & Frank, the first feature by director Frank Schreier, follows an elderly cat burglar (Langella) coping with increasing memory loss, children who resent him, and a world increasingly reliant on technology. His son (James Mardsen) gives him a robot to serve as his assistant, and somewhere in the process, he begins to consider it his friend. None of the material is especially challenging, and tonally it falls somewhere between drama and comedy, rarely fully excelling at either– so if you’re looking for a laugh riot or a tearjerker, this movie likely won’t deliver. However, it succeeds in giving us a central character worth investing our emotions into, and Langella’s performance is riveting. His chemistry with the robot carries this humble little film– it covers familiar ground but with Langella in the driver’s seat still earns its marks for execution.