As we enter Premium Rush, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s bike messenger Wilee (known as the Coyote among the peddling community) hurls through the air in the most cinematic fashion after being full on hit by a taxi cab. The Who echoes in the distance. As worried onlookers rush to the scene of Wilee’s motionless body, we get sent back to the beginning of his afternoon – the reason our fearless hero ended up with his back flat on the busy streets of New York City.
As a security-delivery bike messenger, Wilee faces the mean streets of the Big Apple with gusto. Choosing a life of thrill over the bar exam and, as he believes, a boring desk job, Wilee races through the city transporting important items to random people, receiving bruises, bandages and a minimal paycheck along the way. For him, the scrapes beat the suit.
One fateful afternoon, a simple errand turns into a madcap chase across town when Wilee intercepts a mysterious envelope from a college worker (Jamie Chung). When the crooked cop from every movie ever (Michael Shannon) comes along to stir trouble and gain some needed leverage against some very bad people, Wilee must figure out why he’s being chased by a looney-eyed maniac through the busy streets of Manhattan – as well as discover the importance of the item that he carries. Aided by his on-and-off love interest and fellow biker (Dania Ramirez), Wilee fights to find out the truth through stellar bike tricks and a wee bit of luck.
So I don’t forget to tell you: Wilee’s exploits are combined with stylish flashbacks, filling in necessary plot gaps (what we don’t know and what the characters already do know) through the use of a booming timer.
Similar to Wilee’s renegade motto, Premium Rush cannot slow down – nor does it have any desire to. Director David Koepp chooses to give the film a fast, furious vibe that only by strange seldom choice ever decided to take itself seriously.
Throwing in plenty of self-aware glitter (anything from quick cuts from one end of the city to the other via GPS graphics to Wilee’s cringe-worthy possible wreck scenarios), the film is birthday cake fun: it’s not there for long (91 minutes to be exact), but it’s worth digging into with a plastic fork.
Koepp nails the casting and almost hones the tone – creating an instantaneously wild ride full of earned gasps and smirk-worthy wit.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s all-smiles Wilee and Michael Shannon’s rotten copper (aptly named Bobby Monday) are wise hinges to hang your film on. It’s impossible not to root for Wilee throughout. He’s not as much of a character as he is the symbol for ‘good guy,’ but it’s in our nature to cheer him on (having Wilee played by the immensely likeable Gordon-Levitt only helps).
Shannon, on the other hand, almost begs for you to despise his corrupt character. I’m a firm believer that this guy should be up there with Brad Pitt and George Clooney among the heavy-hitting A-listers who are wanted for nearly every role that comes available. Shannon takes ‘bad cop #5” and transforms him into a walking, talking mental snap – vile down to his very core. None of the characters in this film have any depth (not that they really need it), but man, does Shannon pack on the surface paint. The rest of the cast is fine (Ramirez was a nice change in the leading lady department), but this is Gordon-Levitt and Shannon’s playground.
Alongside the strong leading men, Koepp knows how to direct a bike chase. The film serves up moments of adrenaline-pumping ‘wows’ and nail-biting close calls as we watch bikes chasing bikes, cars chasing bikes, police bikes chasing bikes and on occasion, an unlucky person chasing a bike. It’s all rather simple stuff, but the folks involved in Premium Rush offer up some stunning sequences of real-world frenzy (stick around through about a minute or so of credits to see one of Gordon-Levitt’s real bloodied-up battle wounds).
Unfortunately, Premium Rush can, at times, overcommit itself. Shannon’s cop gets a few moments of evil reinforcement that just feel out of place with the breezy nature of the film’s tone, and the language can become a bit much at times – using unnecessary expletives where a simple sigh of relief would have sufficed.
Also, early on, the character’s conversations are purely existent to give each other workable backgrounds, which can get slightly annoying – but that’s a minor nitpick.
As an action film infused with paper-light humor and a dastardly foe, Premium Rush works. But as a gripping character drama? Not so much. Thankfully, the film opts to be the former instead of the latter on more than one occasion.
While Premium Rush rarely rides without winking eyes, its innovative spark lifts the final product above the normal August post-blockbuster fare. It’s handsome entertainment wrapped in a glitzy cover – the kind that you relish in the now, laugh about in the later and recognize in the future.
Also, the film brings about the greatest bicycle flash mob ever committed to screen. If that’s not something worth celebrating, then I don’t know what is.