One of the things I loved most about David Koepp’s 2004 Johnny Depp feature Secret Window was that it kept me intrigued and interested with very little action or movement. With his new feature starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Koepp somehow made a movie that moves at breakneck speed, but lost me before the one hour mark. This is not to say that the film, centering on bicycle couriers in New York City, is completely bad. It has some great stunts and nearly seamless special effects. The problem is however that logic and likable characters were left fastened to a rack in the parking lot.
Levitt stars as Wilee, yea kinda like the coyote, a hot shot messenger who doesn’t use breaks, and seems to have supreme powers of perception like Spiderman. He darts in and out of traffic and on the sidewalk with little regard for his own safety, or anyone else’s. He doesn’t worry though, because he’s that good. Twenty five years ago this is a role Tom Cruise would have played. Who am I kidding, he probably would have liked to play this role like five years ago, but I digress. Basically Wilee gets an assignment from his dispatcher played by Daily Show’s Asif Mandvi to pick up a letter at his own alma mater and deliver it to an address across town. He has ninety minutes to do so, and he was actually commissioned for the job by a mutual friend of his and his estranged girlfriend. The girlfriend is played by the seriously hot Dania Ramirez and the client is played by the also hot Jamie Chung.
I have to give these two young ladies credit. Ramirez shows hints that she is above material like this role, even though she mostly just chides Levitt for not taking their relationship seriously. She also has to deal with Wilee’s romantic and street rival Manny, played by Wole Parks. She not only has the looks, but Ramirez has a screen presence that holds your interest. Chung also does surprisingly well at gaining our sympathy despite the thin script. The package she needs delivered is basically a receipt for payment of her child who is set to be smuggled to her from China. This really though is what Hitchcock called a “MacGuffin”, which basically means it could be anything, doesn’t matter. Its only purpose is to set in motion the story. For this film however it is only there to set in motion the chase.
Now here’s the real indication that the movie has script problems. The villain is played by Michael Shannon, and he’s not interesting. How does anyone make a movie where Michael Shannon, as the villain, is not interesting?! Shannon plays Det. Monday, a gambling addicted policeman, who is in debt to both the Chinese and Russian mobs. He agrees to stop this transaction from happening, but I couldn’t tell you why these gangsters want to stop this young mother’s cute chubby son from gaining passage. One reason there are problems with Shannon’s character is that he’s stupid. In a scene where he wants to avoid leaving the police station so he can track Wilee, he tells two cops, “I’ll catch up with you guys, I forgot my bullets.” Really? He couldn’t just say, “I forgot something.” I know I’m being harsh on this one, but the reason the bad things piss me off so much, is that the good stuff really works.
Basically the chase scenes are shot and edited very well. The filmmakers show great confidence in these sequences, and they have every right to. They were even so audacious, that the very first chase sequence between Wilee and Monday takes place under the bridge where the classic chase scene from The French Connection was filmed, and even with some near exact shots. However, ultimately this film is proof that all the best action sequences and special effects can’t save a movie from a poorly written script, and characters that are as flat as asphalt.