Even if Premium Rush hadn't had me at "Hello," it certainly would have had me at "Forrest J Ackerman."
A movie built around a bicycle messenger is a risky venture - as an adrenaline-pumper, it sounds about as promising as Driving Miss Daisy - but writer-director David Koepp invests in our need for speed right from the first frame.
Employing stylish graphics and a muscular shooting style, he immediately thrusts us into the story of Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a New York City bike messenger who gets high off his breakneck job. Enter Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a corrupt cop who simply must obtain what's inside the envelope that Wilee is presently carrying to an unassuming shop in Chinatown. Since most of Bobby's actions are illegal, he's forced to provide a fake name whenever anybody asks him to identify himself. So he goes with Forrest J Ackerman.
The late, great Ackerman - a childhood hero, it should be stated - was the editor of the influential magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, and it's just the sort of pop-culture factoid one can expect from Koepp, whose previous credits as a screenwriter include such exciting franchise-starters as Jurassic Park, Spider-Man and Mission: Impossible. But Koepp (sharing scripting duties here with John Kamps) has more on his mind than in-joke asides. Despite its A-list credentials, Premium Rush feels like a B-movie beauty, smaller in scale than its summer brethren yet outclassing most of them with giddy irreverence.
It's similar in that respect to 2009's A Perfect Getaway, another under-the-radar thriller and one that sadly never found its audience. This new picture is even better, full of plot pirouettes yet still managing to get on and off the screen in a lean 90 minutes. Gordon-Levitt again demonstrates that he's one of Young Hollywood's best hopes, Shannon is terrific as a dirty cop whose quirky sense of humor remains intact even as his desperation mounts, and rising actresses Dania Ramirez and Jamie Chung excel in roles pivotal to the plot.
If anyone wants to end the summer with a bang, this beats even the fireworks.
YOUR SISTER'S SISTER
The dialogue in Your Sister's Sister is so natural, flowing and unforced that it's a wonder audience members don't frequently call out the makers of other movies for penning lines that sound as if they could only have come from a screenwriter's keyboard. It isn't that there's anything wrong with sentences built with a more fanciful spin - heck, I could listen to Coen-speak all day long - but there's nevertheless a special satisfaction in hearing characters speak as if they just had arrived on the screen from the coffee shop adjacent to the movie theater.
Writer-director Lynn Shelton gets much of the credit, of course, but so do her lead performers, all asked to improvise as filming took place. The result is a disarming picture in which Jack (Mark Duplass), trying to get his life in order following the death of his brother, takes the advice of his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) and heads off to her family's isolated cabin for some quality alone time. He's surprised to find Iris' lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) at the cottage, but they quickly get acquainted, downing hard liquor together and partaking in an ill-advised fling - one made all the more unfortunate with Iris' arrival the next day.
The characters are more believable than the occasionally schematic plot, but Shelton and her cast (especially the two actresses) deserve credit for creating people who are alternately endearing, off-putting, intelligent, idiotic, sympathetic and frustrating - in short, people like us.
THE EXPENDABLES 2
The best thing about The Expendables 2 involves Chuck Norris. I don't mean his performance - he's as awful as ever, showing even less range than a mattress pad - but rather that his character manages to work in one of those popular "Chuck Norris Internet facts" that have led to his renewed popularity (e.g. "Chuck Norris drinks napalm to quell his heartburn"; "Chuck Norris counted to infinity ... twice"). I won't ruin the Norris "fact" used in the film, but it provides one of the few genuine laughs, and it's certainly better than the forced wisecracks centering around iconic figures formerly played by co-stars Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A marginal improvement over the first Expendables romp, this sequel offers expanded roles for Willis and Schwarzenegger (whose appearances in the first film amounted to nothing more than cameos), casts another '80s action star as the villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme as ... groan ... Jean Vilain), and, perhaps in a dubious attempt to expand the audience beyond action-crazed young males, adds group newcomers in the form of a pinup heartthrob (The Hunger Games' Liam Hemsworth) and a kick-ass woman (Nan Yu).
The team's mission is twofold: Stop Vilain from using his plutonium supply to conquer the world and exact their revenge on said villain for murdering one of their own.
Director Simon West's action flicks tend to be cluttered, choppy affairs (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Con Air), and The Expendables 2 is no exception. As the team leader and his right-hand man, Stallone and Jason Statham awkwardly exchange male-bonding barbs. One of the franchise stars appears only at the beginning, leaving audiences to wonder if he was downed by pneumonia for the rest of the shoot. Schwarzenegger, whose Botoxed mug makes him look like a CGI creation, lamely tries on Willis' signature "yippee-ki-yay" and finds it to be an ill fit (Willis fares better with Arnie's "I'll be back"). And so it goes.