PREMIUM RUSH: a 30Hz Commentary

So I watched Premium Rush again last night and I had some thoughts…

Premium Rush

Time for a rant.

We’ve become so jaded and serious in moviewatching and moviemaking. Movies like PREMIUM RUSH are breath of fresh f’ing air because they aim to make pure entertainment without pandering to the lowest common denominator. Premium Rush is implausible cheese of the highest order ripped straight out of the Hackers, late 80’s/early-90’s mode of filmmaking (which was in turn largely derived from B-movies of the Golden Era of filmmaking) . I’ve encouraged many people to watch this movie. Most have come back with backhanded compliments that often begin with “It was dumb, but…” But is Premium Rush dumb? Or has writer/director David Koepp calculated perfectly the visceral pleasure of watching JGL go head-to-head with Michael Shannon (doing his best Christoper Walken impersonation) at 40mph? How often do filmmakers succeed at low(ish) budget, thrills-a-minute B-pictures? #1: They don’t get made because they have no chance of being big hits. #2. They’re generally not treated or handled with respect by the filmmakers for the potential entertainment value.

The phrase “pure entertainment” has been given a bad name by the summer blockbusters. Money/effects/big-name actors do not mean entertainment. The third Transformers film cost $195 million. $195 million. PREMIUM RUSH cost $35 million. How much money did Premium Rush’s studio spend on marketing the film. Did anyone actually see a trailer or a TV spot? I remember one or two at best. I went because of the very positive review in the New York Times by Manohla Dargis, a reviewer whose opinion I shall forever respect for giving Premium Rush the time of day. She concludes her review with the following line that does justice to the nature of this brand of filmmaking:

“Working from a loose, casually funny script he wrote with John Kamps, Mr. Koepp has found the right balance here between genre seriousness and un-self-seriousness to turn the disposable into the enjoyable.”

B-pictures (when B-pictures were a real entity until the end of the 1950’s) by their nature were considered disposable entertainment tacked onto a big-name film for a theatrical double-feature. They were low-budget commercial motion pictures that were not arthouse (or pornographic to be more precise). The filmmakers who directed B-movies relished the opportunity to make a movie for pure entertainment value with the meager budget they were given. It was their livelihood and many thrived on the fringe of Hollywood. But as the industry evolved to worship the spectacle film, the art of the B-movie slowly disappeared. B-movies just became synonymous with failed big-budget enterprises. In the process of marginalizing, I feel like we (as a collective moviegoing public) have also lost some of our ability to simply enjoy entertainment. We’re skeptical of a movie that doesn’t aim to make $100 million dollars or win an Academy Award. If it aims for neither, it must just be a bad movie the studio wants swept under the rug as quickly and quietly as possible.

And there’s something inherently wrong with that. It means we’re as much at fault for the dearth of creativity in modern filmmaking as the studios. Movies like PREMIUM RUSH fail to find an audience but GROWN UPS 2 and GI JOE: RETALIATION make more than $120 million each at the box office.

So I’m going to keep telling people to watch PREMIUM RUSH because I don’t think people really truly go to the movies to watch derivative, lifeless spectacles. I think people want to see these movies but they’ve been brainwashed into believing that dumb can’t also be fun… and that pleasure has to be “guilty.” Just enjoy watching movies again, goddammit. It’s really not that complicated.