Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a recent law school graduate who thinks wearing a suit and sitting in an office is a form of torture. He hasn’t taken the bar exam yet and makes a living as a bike messenger in New York City. His ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) broke up with him after he didn’t attend her college graduation because he forgot it which makes working together at the delivery service a bit complicated. Add to the mix a rivalry between Wilee and another bike messenger Manny (Wole Parks) who also has eyes for Vanessa. Sent out on a pick-up, Wilee is given an envelope by Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) that must be delivered to a location in Chinatown to Sister Chen no later than 7pm. As he’s about to hit the streets, Wilee is approached by police detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), saying the envelope he’s carrying is evidence in an investigation. Wilee refuses to give up the envelope and hits the road with Monday following in his car. Monday is into an illegal Chinese gambling den for thousands of dollars in bad debts. He can clear his account if he gets that envelope and delivers it to his debtors. Now Monday and Wilee are locked in a chase across New York City that could end up with one of them dead and the hopes and dreams of a young woman and her family destroyed.
“Premium Rush” is a simple chase movie. It doesn’t have deeper implications about life and our place in the universe. That’s just fine since the film is a very good action movie with the kind of chase scenes that cause you to tighten up your body and prepare for the impact the characters are likely to have in the next instant. As you experience the life of a bike messenger in New York, you see just how reckless and fearless one must be to attempt that kind of job. The film uses a technique of Gordon-Levitt’s character sorting through the various pathways through traffic and pedestrian obstacles as he approaches a dangerous intersection. The audience sees the potential risk and outcome of each course until the safest one is found. It’s similar to Spider-Man’s ability to sense danger as it approaches. Whether actual bike messengers have this kind of super power is difficult to say; however, it is an effective trick for the movie. It also provides those people who enjoy seeing bodies flying through the air, getting hit by cars and tumbling on the ground some eye candy without ending the movie at two minutes in. All the action is filmed low to the ground with an emphasis on how little room bike messengers have to work with. Cars, trucks, baby strollers and trash cans seem to be on the hunt for fresh biker meat at every corner and intersection. Joseph Gordon-Levitt learned how dangerous the job is in real life as he crashed into the back of a taxi cab and landed in the rear window, shattering it and cutting his forearm. The injury required over 30 stitches and cellphone video of the injury is included in the closing credits of the film. I’ve heard of method acting but that’s ridiculous.
Gordon-Levitt, Ramirez and the rest of the cast are very good in the film. They aren’t given that much to do other than look sweaty on their bikes as they pedal the streets of NYC. The exception is Michael Shannon’s dirty cop that is played with a level of enthusiasm that borders on camp. While it might be considered over the top, Shannon is actually kind of a breath of fresh air in a movie whose primary characters are largely the strong, silent types. His portrayal of what the world believes how a New York City detective acts and talks provides a splash of color in a largely bland movie.
What didn’t quite work in the film is the story that sets all the chases in motion. I don’t want to give away any plot points that would ruin it, but the secondary characters motivations are somewhat murky and which side they are playing on seems to change with regularity. Much of this part of the film seems to have been fleshed out as an afterthought, the thinking being, “There has to be a reason why this package is so important to the bad guys, so let’s think something up, quick!” While the resolution of the story does provide a mildly heartwarming moment, it doesn’t make up for some confusing actions by these characters.
“Premium Rush” is rated PG-13 for some violence, language and intense action sequences. We see several bike crashes, Monday uses violence against several people in the film including beating one man to death and torturing Wilee in the back of an ambulance. The bike scenes through the streets of New York are often extremely tense even when the action doesn’t involve a chase. Foul language is scattered.
It will come as a surprise to no one that I haven’t ridden a bike in probably 35 years. I do occasionally think about buying one to get some exercise. “Premium Rush” has pretty much ended those thoughts. I’ll stick with getting my thrills vicariously through the actions on screen. After all, the stationary bike at the gym is surrounded by air-conditioned comfort.
“Premium Rush” gets four guitars out of five.
Two new films hit local screens this week. Vote on the next movie I review.
Lawless—Set in the Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by authorities who want a cut of their profits.
The Possession—A married couple see no problem with their young daughter becoming obsessed with a wooden box purchased at a yard sale…until the contents of that box threatens their lives.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently playing.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.