“I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to either.” Subtlety is not the strong suit of Premium Rush, but who needs it when you’ve got such high-octane energy? Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) — yes, pronounced like the cartoon coyote — is a bike messenger who wants nothing more than to feel the exhilaration of riding his bike at breakneck speeds through New York City. He has the smarts for law school, but the idea of wearing a suit to work makes him sick. He’s not terribly complex or original, but that doesn’t seem very important.
Wilee has been given an envelope that must reach Chinatown by a specific time. In his way stands Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a hothead with a wee bit of a gambling problem, to say the least. Monday’s debts have grown too large, and now he needs that envelope to square him with some bad people. Again, not overly complex, just simple characters with simple motivations. Wilee is good and has to deliver the envelope; Monday is bad and wants to steal it.
There are minor subplots involving Wilee’s relationship with other bike messengers, but they seem extraneous and are wholly uninteresting. What matters here is the main story, which writer/director David Koepp executes admirably. While the dialogue is cheesy and on the nose, Koepp’s script is tight and flows together nicely. Premium Rush is not told in a linear fashion, but Koepp’s simple story and solid direction keeps everything from falling off track. He doles out important information at a steady rate in order to maintain mystery, while injecting new reasons to feel suspense into every scene.
The previews for Premium Rush have mostly turned off potential audiences, as there hasn’t been a whole lot of buzz about this film. I have to admit, I can’t really blame people for writing it off. A chase movie about a bike messenger? What is this, the sequel to Rad? The only reason I even gave Premium Rush a chance was because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whom I consider to be one of the best actors working right now. Gordon-Levitt is able to shift between blockbusters and art house flicks and deliver excellent performances on both sides. His pre-established connection with audiences is what carries him here, creating a likeable character simply by being on screen.
There aren’t many moments for Gordon-Levitt to flex his acting muscle, but he does a good job with what he’s given. Michael Shannon has much more to do, being the only main character not speeding on a bike the whole film. Shannon is a whole lot of fun to watch, chewing the scenery a bit as he makes sure we all know that he is playing the bad guy. In a much more serious movie, Shannon’s performance may seem off, but it fits right into the breezy Premium Rush.
With adrenaline-pumping chase scenes and a simple, well executed story, Premium Rush is premium entertainment. It’s a break from the bing bang boom of summer blockbusters and a satisfying last hoorah before awards season begins. You know, I never learned how to ride a bike. After seeing this film, I have more of a desire to learn now than ever before. I won’t be zooming around the city like these characters, but perhaps I wouldn’t mind a gentle ride around the block.
My Rating: (7/10)