Freewheeling Premium Rush a Fun, Energetic Ride
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a freewheeling New York City bicycle messenger, whipping through traffic with a fearless abandon that both excites and scares his fellow cyclists. One day he receives a call to make a pickup for his on again-off again girlfriend Vanessa’s (Dania Ramirez) roommate Nima (Jaime Chung), the young woman asking him to transport a mysterious envelope across town in a little less than 90 minutes.
But what should have been an easy ride turns into a race against time, a crooked NYPD detective (Michael Shannon) eager to get his mitts on what it is Wilee is transporting. Soon they are sprinting across the town, dodging one another along with several additional obstacles that litter their respective paths. Through it all the messenger is determined to complete his job, the repercussions of failure too horrific for him or his fellow messengers to comprehend let lone allow to come to pass.
David Koepp’s (Stir of Echoes) latest directorial effort Premium Rush is not a remake of the hysterically awful (and that’s sort of a compliment) 1986 New York bicycle messenger melodrama Quicksilver. While the two leads do have some thematic similarities (one became a messenger after he made a bad decision as a stockbroker and is now scared to get back in the game, the other is a messenger even though he’s a law school graduate leery of taking the Bar Exam), the way they tell their respective stories couldn’t be more different.
That earlier film was more or less a disaster, taking itself so seriously it became downright laughable. Premium Rush, however, is a heck of a lot of fun, the film understanding just how silly its premise and the situations its various characters find themselves attempting to deal with inherently are. Koepp plays things straight yet also with tongue firmly in cheek, allowing his actors, especially Shannon, ample leeway to make their performances feel much more energetic, alive and genuine than they would have been otherwise.
The movie is also magnificently well shot and edited, cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (Jonah Hex) keeping the action clearly visible while Derek Ambrosi and Jill Savitt (The Lookout) cut things together with kinetically fluid virtuosity. The stunt work, according to the Koepp not augmented digitally in any way whatsoever, is flabbergasting, the film having a visceral real-time aesthetic that I found impossible to resist.
The film never shortchanges its actors. Gordon-Levitt is fully invested, and although his namesake is an animated coyote known for his failures, Wilee’s closest spirit animal is easily that dude’s feathered nemesis The Road Runner. The actor keeps pushing the momentum, never stops moving, never stops biking and never gives in, and even when it looks like all is lost and he’s ready to throw in the towel, just like that familiar road-running foul Gordon-Levitt finds new tricks up his sleeve to keep his NYPD nemesis constantly eating his dust.
Yet Shannon is the reason this movie ends up being so exuberantly entertaining. Yes, the plot is thin and wildly implausible. Yes, the character the actor is playing is one of the more pathetically stupid antagonists in recent memory. But for Shannon, none of that matters. He’s having a blast, giving his detective so many different shades, so many different sides, I was head over heels for him seconds after his introduction. The guy’s delivery is unhinged, the way he moves his body, raises an eyebrow or shrugs his shoulders equally so. Shannon’s final moments border on brilliance, and I was grinning ear-to-ear primarily thanks to him as I exited the promo screening.
I’m not going to try to say that Koepp’s film is anything that outstanding. I’m not even sure I can recommend paying the price of an evening ticket. But as a matinee? Something to catch when it gets to the bargain theatres? Premium Rush is worth the price of admission and then some, this flick a two-wheeled thrill ride I can’t wait to see again.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)