Premium Rush (2012) / Action-Thriller
MPAA rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running time: 91 min.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Wole Parks, Jamie Chung, Aasif Mandvi, Christopher Place
Director: David Koepp
Screenplay: David Koepp, John Kamps
Review published March 7, 2013
A bit like Run Lola Run for people who like bikes, except without the German film's sense of style, motif, or interesting characterizations. Basically, Premium Rush, co-written and directed by David Koepp (Ghost Town, Secret Window), isn't much more than a slickly directed chase film, watching a man on a fixed-gear, brake-less bike careening around the New York streets at breakneck speeds in order to make a delivery on time, while evading cops and crooks alike.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, GI Joe) stars as Wilee (the "Road Runner" reference is alluded to in the movie itself), a young man who has eschewed the business world for the adrenaline-pumping exhilaration of getting paid to ride as fast and as often as he can to make deliveries on crowded and hectic Manhattan streets as a bike messenger. Things get even more dangerous on his latest assignment to deliver a letter from his old alma mater to Chinatown -- a simple enough task, until a strange man (Shannon, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) claiming to be campus security tells him to hand over the package, which is against the company credo. The security guy, whose real name is revealed to be Bobby Monday, ends up being a crooked, loose-cannon NYPD detective in dire straits, who needs to retrieve the contents of Wilee's delivery to save his own bacon.
Premium Rush is a bit of a junk-food film, never trying to be anything more than a titillating 90 minutes of fast-paced action. Along those lines, those looking for such a film may come away satisfied, so long as they don't expect much more than a lot of good bike riding scenes, stunts, and slick camera work. It might have played better if writer-director Koepp (Ghost Town, Secret Window) kept closer to its B-movie premise, as the main detraction of the film comes from the moments when the characters begin to take what they're doing seriously, mostly occurring with a terrible explanation as to why the young Chinese woman on a student visa (Chung, Sucker Punch) so desperately wants the package to be delivered. Michael Shannon plays his role far over the top, which may be enjoyable for some viewers, but it does seem incongruous with the tone of the rest of the rather dumb film. Somewhat more amusing is the recurring gag of another, more honest (but no less tenacious) NYPD bike cop (Place) trying so very hard to catch Wilee, mostly to no avail, time and again.
A chase film in and of itself might have been enough, but Koepp's screenplay also bogs down the story with a needless 'love triangle' subplot among the bike messengers, with Wilee's sometimes-girlfriend Vanessa (Ramirez, X-Men: The Last Stand) long suffering through a relationship where he has the intelligence to take up a successful career but doesn't want to, while she has worked 8 years to get her degree. Meanwhile, rival messenger and thief of hearts Manny (Parks, "As the World Turns") is going to make a major play for Vanessa, who he thinks should drop the zero she's with and get with a real man. What's worse than this tangential business is the fact that Vanessa just so happens to be revealed to be the roommate of Nima, the Chinese exchange student that is the impetus for the nefarious delivery.
Sometimes, these kids of gimmicky action films can be fun, such as Speed, Cellular, and Crank. Those films succeeded because they were knowingly made as bad movies that kept their ludicrous tone throughout, and managed to keep audiences on board with some clever twists and a lot of panache. There is a lot of emphasis on the visual style, which gives viewers plenty of popup clocks (the narrative time-shifts back and forth to reveal more pieces of the overall story), Wilee's state-of-mind decisions on alternate routes he imagines in his mind while waiting at stop lights, and GPS-inspired map routes that give us the length and difficulty of each route. Alas, such bells and whistles do little to generate real buzz to the story that is DOA from inception. Premium Rush has a game cast, yet lacks enough fun or funny developments to justify a full-length feature, and Koepp doesn't set the right tone for a tongue-in-cheek, campy thrill-ride that it seems he most desperately wants it to be.
©2013 Vince Leo