Year 9, Day 139 - 5/19/17 - Movie #2,634
BEFORE: Movie #2 of 4 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt this week. Picked this one up off of Free Movies on Demand, that's not usually a great sign. Like if it were a great movie, they'd be charging for it, right? Eh, who knows - this came out about 5 years ago, and it never really made my to-do list, not until I got "Don Jon" and had to pair it with something.
THE PLOT: A bike messenger picks up an envelope that attracts the interest of a dirty cop, who pursues the cyclist throughout New York.
AFTER: So the premise is, there's this kid who flunked out of law school, and he now makes his living as this hot-shot bike messenger who rides a fixed-gear bike with NO BRAKES (because who would ever want to, like, stop?) and has an uncanny ability to find the best routes through intersections without getting killed and minimizing the resulting damage to pedestrians and property. Right off the bat, I hate hate HATE this character. Because I spend a fair amount of time as a pedestrian in NYC, and bicyclists (in general) are irresponsible enough without putting this dipshit up on screen and somehow glorifying riding a bike that can't stop. Not even for red lights, which is kind of the law - in New York, a bike is legally a vehicle and is subject to ALL of the same traffic laws as a car. Yes, all of them.
In the last few years, starting under Mayor Bloomberg and continuing under Mayor Too-Tall De-Blah-sio, New York's been moving toward become more pedestrian and bike-friendly, and less car-centric. We've got Citibike stations on darn near every street now, and I have friends who swear by them as a method of getting around, and also getting more exercise at the same time. That's fine, until you realize that the city really needs to pick a lane, and it can't become more pedestrian-friendly AND more bike-friendly at the same time, because those two things are at odds with each other. And a guy on a bike with no brakes perfectly exemplifies that paradox - this means he speeds through EVERY crosswalk, even when it's full of pedestrians, because screw 'em. And I've seen the result of that, and it's not pretty. To say nothing of ALL the cell phone calls these bike messengers make WHILE weaving through traffic. It's incredibly irresponsible to do, or portray this.
(I mean, JEEZ, what's the point of spending millions of dollars to make New York City more bike-friendly, when in a few years we're just going to have to scrap all that to make it more accessible for solar-powered, driverless cars? Hopefully, that is. And then I'll laugh myself silly every time one of those robot-driven cars plows into a cyclist that tried to cut into its lane. Hopefully, that is.)
And then the movie seems to make it OK for any biker riding in the MIDDLE of traffic (NOT in a bike lane) to forcibly remove the mirror of any taxicab that they think might be encroaching on their space. Fine, if that's the case, then I get to clothesline any biker who speeds through a pedestiran-filled crosswalk, fair is fair. Personally, I've been hit several times by cyclists travelling the WRONG way down a one-way street, and most of the streets in Manhattan are one-way. Yes, bikers, you don't get to pick and choose which traffic laws you want to follow, it's ALL of them.
I used to bicycle in the city myself, for a few years I'd ride in from Park Slope, Brooklyn, 2 or 3 times a week, unless it was raining or I didn't feel up to it. I remember one condo board meeting that was so long and frustrating that I got on my bike in Brooklyn just to vent, and I soon found myself in the sheep meadow in Central Park, too tired to bike home. (BTW, that's the ONLY time a bicycle should be allowed on the subway, when a cyclist is too tired or injured. Otherwise, bringing a bike on the train during rush hour should be met with capital punishment.) Eventually I gave it up, and all the potential health benefits that went with it, because I felt my life was in danger, there were just too many traffic risks that outweighed the positives.
But let's get back to the movie, which unfortunately is another case where someone couldn't tell a narrative in a linear way, and the movie starts at 5:30 pm but keeps jumping back to show us what happened at 3:30 or 4:15, forcing the audience to take comprehensive timeline notes at home to figure out what happened in what order. Bunch of B.S., that's what it is. There's simply no reason this story wouldn't have worked as a straight narrative, it just comes down to revealing information bit by bit, and a clever writer would find a way to make that work without defying the rules of time and space.
Speaking of the rules of space, don't think I didn't notice that our cycling hero starts uptown at 115th St., then somehow the scenery changes to lower Park Ave., then someplace where there's an elevated train, and then before long he's passing Central Park. Umm, yeah, that route just doesn't work for me. Why show us the route on his cell-phone map thingy if the scenery's going to tell us a different story? How the hell did he teleport over to Park Ave.? I mean, I know it's very scenic street, but he could not have gotten there, so it's a poor excuse.
The goal is to get something down to Chinatown before 7 pm, which seems quite possible given that he's starting uptown at what, 4:30 pm? Now, see, if it were me, I'd just take the subway down there, and still arrive well before the deadline, but what do I know. Now, a couple of things - it's just too much of a coincidence that the woman sending the package is the roommate of the messenger's ex-girlfriend - I mean, there are 8 million people in this city, what are the odds? Now, maybe you might feel that the later scenes (which actually happen earlier) explain this coincidence, and maybe you don't. But let's table that for a minute.
It's the contents of the package that turn this film from a simple chase film into a commentary on immigration - and I'm reminded about how the Demi Moore film "Striptease" chose to similarly focus on the plight of the migrant farm workers (I remember thinking, "Jesus, can we just see Demi naked, please?"). It's all about focus, and I guess SOMETHING important had to be in the package, but did we really need a treatise on snakeheads and tongs and the underground Asian economy?
NITPICK POINT: When our hero is first trying to deliver the package, and he's being followed by the mystery man, and he's still on deadline, he goes into a police station to report the man following him. Why? He's still on deadline, he got away from the man and he can always report this guy to the cops AFTER he delivers the package. I mean, I know WHY this had to happen to advance the plot, but he shouldn't be focused on making the deadline one minute and then wasting time in the police station the next, it's woefully inconsistent.
Now, in the end coda we should be made to feel as if the main character has been changed by his experience, there should be some personal growth, which could easily have been symbolized by riding a different bike, maybe one with brakes. This would mean that he no longer has a death wish, he's more comfortable with life and more considerate of others. Nope, still speeding along with no brakes, so he's still an asshole. This would be like if Marty McFly still engaged in drag-racing at the end of "Back to the Future 3" - it would have shown that he learned NOTHING, and his adventure was all for naught.
Also starring Michael Shannon (last seen in "Midnight Special"), Dania Ramirez (last seen in "25th Hour"), Wolé Parks, Aasif Mandvi (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Jamie Chung (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Christopher Place, Sean Kennedy, Kym Perfetto, Anthony Chisholm (last seen in "Reign Over Me"), Ashley Austin Morris, Henry O, Boyce Wong, Lauren Ashley Carter.
RATING: 3 out of 10 ignored red lights