Nobody needs a movie to tell them that bicycle couriers are crazy, but they’re certainly interesting enough characters to build one around. Premium Rush is the result, a smaller-scale chase film that definitely has a lot of rush, though it isn’t quite a premium experience.
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of a unique breed in the digital age, careening through New York City’s daily crush to deliver packages for chump change. He’s especially unique because of his custom ride: a fixed gear bike with no brakes. “Brakes are death,” he tells girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), and the others wonder if he has a death wish. Luckily he’s got a Spidey-sense for traffic, plotting safe routes through intersections in slow-motion.
An acquaintance requests Wilee to deliver a small envelope, and almost immediately he’s set upon by Monday (Michael Shannon), a menacing NYPD detective who desperately wants its contents. Add in rival courier Manny (Wolé Parks), an equally persistent bike cop (Christopher Place), and an assortment of shady characters, and this is one job that’s definitely not worth the few bucks Wilee’s been promised.
Director David Koepp has written a ton of well-known, high-concept action movies, including Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, and Jurassic Park, and his script here (with John Kamps) has a great premise, setting, characters, and dialogue. The film also has a killer soundtrack, and good use of visual effects and animation – GPS arrows twist through the streets, framing the action, and CGI simulates the extremely dangerous traffic. Much like its main character, Premium Rush is constantly pedalling.
But the action is somehow weak. By the mid-point of the film, all this bike chasing starts to become repetitive, and a little boring. Koepp does his best to mix things up, but we still get the same variations of a guy on a bike being chased by somebody else yelling at him to stop. Meanwhile, the background reactions of frightened drivers and pedestrians becomes laughable – everyone’s like Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, pounding on car hoods and shaking their fists. Occasionally, the main story pauses while flashbacks fill in the blanks, but then these scenes move too slowly, stopping the film like waiting at a light.
The movie is redeemed somewhat by its performances. Gordon-Levitt is capable as always, and Shannon makes a great bad guy, tough with just the right amount of buffoon. They carry the film well despite the fact they seem to be having a contest to see who can do the best affected giggle. For some reason, I really liked Place’s hapless bike cop. He’s really just a placeholder character, with few lines of dialogue, but he makes an impression.
I’m willing to accept that I may be fatigued from watching too many cycling events during the Olympics, but Premium Rush, while an okay movie, doesn’t fully deliver.
Tags: movie review