Director: David Koepp
Runtime: 91 minutes
It is easy to dismiss a movie like Premium Rush sight unseen. The trailer involves a lot of philosophizing about the virtues of the fixed-gear bike cut with some two-wheeled action chase nonsense. The protagonists – Manhattan bike messengers – are alternately reviled and mocked by most corners of society. On the whole, the enterprise seems to be nothing but an attempt to make a cheap movie to cash in on late-summer malaise.
Yet when you actually see the movie, it is easy to love Premium Rush. This is the kind of film that you can easily forget exists following a long summer saturated with big-budget, CG-heavy titans based off of well-known properties. What we have here is an original, straight-forward chase movie with a basic plot, charismatic actors giving spirited performances, and rollicking action scenes seemingly devoid of any extraneous CG manipulation.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt anchors the film as Wilee (yes, like the coyote), the bike messenger to end all bike messengers. He loves the thrill of racing his fixie at high speeds through urban traffic on a visceral level. That he makes money off of the hobby is just icing on the cake. As must happen in any film that follows a brash young professional whose ethos involves making deliveries and never opening the package, Wilee runs afoul of a sinister stranger (Michael Shannon) who wants – nay, needs – his most recent package. Aided by his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), Wilee has to make his given destination by 7 pm, lest dire consequences be wrought.
A lot of the joy in a movie like this comes from knowing that everyone involved was having a good time. The infectious energy transfers from the performer to their character to the audience, and this movie has that virtue in spades. Gordon-Levitt is a spry and winning presence (not that you need me to tell you that) and he makes Wilee the kind of resourceful and relatable protagonist that we love to root for. Shannon has fun as the obviously-up-to-no-good Bobby Monday, espousing a kind of manic persistance and weariness.
The vaguely-non-linear execution of the story draws out some of the mysteries of the film in an interesting way, but might not be wholly necessary for any reason other than making sure that the chase scenes are evenly distributed. There are no world-ending secrets to be found here – the story stays very grounded and personal – and so the dribbling of revelations regarding motive and reason may underwhelm. In fact, many of the obstacles that Wilee must face – especially a park-based race with a rival messenger – probably won’t hold up against really strong scrutiny.
But do they have to? Part of the fun of a film like Premium Rush is in the ever-mounting series of roadblocks that the character must overcome, and the “what next?” sense of incredulity that they inspire. Coincidence and happenstance rule the day, but they never conspire the mire the film’s pace or energy, and so they are more than worthy of being forgiven. Plus, the film isn’t above poking a little good-natured fun at itself from time to time, and that helps to alleviate the mental strain of wondering just how long a New York bike cop would spend chasing a single man.
Director David Koepp doesn’t try to amp up the spectacle by using anything too flashy. He keeps the action clear, the physical spaces and the movements within them understandable, and the colors bright. His one concession to flash – a time slow-down that allows us to see Wilee’s thought process in plotting his route – is well-deployed and results in some amusing payoffs. For a movie about high-speed, traffic-weaving bike messengers, that’s a level of restraint that should be lauded.
Premium Rush grabs you by the hand and pulls you along for a fun dance of humor, action, and satisfying thrills. It’s not opposed to laughing at it’s own silly steps, and doesn’t keep you whirling for too long before releasing you smiling and laughing into the lobby once more. Given the summer we’ve had, who can’t say that that doesn’t sound like an appealing proposition?
Premium Rush is now in wide release.
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