Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
What Went Wrong?: Vol. 11
August 30, 2012Posted by on
For this week’s installment of What Went Wrong, I will take a look at Premium Rush, an incredibly recently-released film, and analyze why I think it floundered in its opening weekend at the box office. I was going to pair it up with another genre movie, but couldn’t really work out the right fit. So this week I’ll cover just one movie, and maybe next week I’ll have the heart once again to dissect two or three movies at once. I just hope Hollywood never runs out of box office flops for me to cover!*
*Note: This will never happen.
Premium Rush (2012)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has had a sneaky long career in Hollywood. I remember him as a kid in the feature film Angels in the Outfield, and then as a member of the aliens-on-earth sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun in the late 90s. After a few years where I didn’t really notice much of his work (in indie films like Brick, Stop-Loss, and Mysterious Skin), Gordon-Levitt seemed to randomly pop up in a number of high-profile films in the past few years. He really regained popular attention following his role in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, garnered critical acclaim for the cancer dramedy 50/50, and then appeared in The Dark Knight Rises, a tremendous summer 2012 hit. Gordon-Levitt’s stock, it seemed, could not have been any higher. And then, Premium Rush debuted to an incredibly soft six million dollars this past weekend. So, what went wrong?
Premium Rush is the story of Wilee (Gordon-Levitt), a NYC bicycle messenger who must flee a corrupt cop (Michael Shannon) and help his ex-girlfriend (Dania Ramirez) get her roommate’s (Jamie Chung) family safe passage from China to America. That simple plot analysis encapsulates what it means to be a genre film right off the bat. Much like this year’s Jason Statham drives a car and kills people vehicle Safe (also covered earlier in this feature), Premium Rush is the definition of an exercise in film genre. Such films almost never do well at the box office, which is probably why we don’t get to see a lot of them in theaters.
Columbia Pictures didn’t do the film any favors by releasing it in the dregs of August either. This month is where movies go to die a quick death. In the past few years, we’ve seen studios release some pretty legitimately entertaining genre films during the winter months, including Taken, Unknown, and The Grey (incidentally all starred Liam Neeson). Premium Rush seemed better suited for a similar release, where nothing much else was going on and filmgoers could have escaped into the interesting little world it built for itself. I think the home video aftermarket is going to be very kind to this movie. I could see it selling well on DVD and Blu Ray and renting well at the Redbox machine.
Another interesting aspect of Premium Rush is that the film went through a rather lengthy and troubled production. Director David Koepp (who has a laundry list of credits to his name, including Spider-man and Jurassic Park) and the rest of the production crew filmed Premium Rush way back in the summer of 2010. That almost feels like ten years ago at this point. This is the kind of film which should have seen a much quicker turnaround. There’s no excuse for it taking over two years to finally appear in theaters. Additionally, the production faced litigation by author Joe Quick, who had written a similarly themed screenplay entitled The Ultimate Rush. The comparisons were apparently too similar to throw out the lawsuit, and director Koepp was eventually included in the suit as well.
Premium Rush did score well with critics, garnering a 74% “Fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a 3.5 out of 4 star review from Roger Ebert. Consensus seemed to be that the film was exciting and that Gordon-Levitt as well as Michael Shannon both excelled in their roles. The film just seemed to have been set up to fail. The interesting premise, the fact that we got another competent genre film exercise (are we living in a film genre golden age?), and the good main cast couldn’t make up for the fact that the public seemed entirely disinterested. I still can’t help but feel it’ll do well in the Redbox machine however.