Film Review – Premium Rush
Let’s say I gave you the opportunity to see a thriller directed by David Koepp (Stir of Echoes, Secret Window) that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the hero and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter) as the villain. You’d probably be fairly excited, right? So why is it that when it’s revealed that the plot is about a bike messenger, it loses a lot of people’s interest? That is the question I had going into Premium Rush.
The story follows the aforementioned bike messenger, Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), as he is sent on a “premium rush” assignment to deliver an envelope across Manhattan within two hours. Unfortunately, his journey is interrupted by a corrupt cop named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who is after the delivery at all costs.
This film has drawn a lot of comparison to (and jokes about) the Kevin Bacon movie Quicksilver, because they both have a bike messenger plot line. I’m in the minority of people who like bike movies. There is an element of danger that bicycles (and motorcycles) have that is hard to replicate. If you’ve ever driven through a major city, you know both how unobservant drivers are, as well as how reckless messengers can be. I perceive the danger to be great enough that I actually refuse to ride a bike through the city. Quicksilver isn’t great, but I enjoyed it—I mean, it is Kevin Bacon, after all…and I also enjoyed the Kevin Costner bike race drama American Flyers. But Premium Rush does the best job I have seen of capturing the real danger of riding a bicycle.
It might be funny to say, but I think the film works best when it isn’t focused on the plot. The biggest surprise for me wasn’t any of the twists and turns in the story, but simply how much plot this film actually had. There is a lot of work done with using the time in the world of the story to express how fast things occur. Initially, I thought the filmmakers might have even gone so far as to make the plot occur in real time, but that wasn’t the case. There is a lot of weaving through the time and character perspectives—a bit reminiscent of the famous Rashomon style—to tell all the sides of the story, but without raising any questions about the authenticity of any of the characters’ stories. This was all a pleasant surprise, but not what I was ultimately after—and that was the action.
For a film like this, you want to see bicycles being recklessly ridden while executing crazy stunts—not necessarily romantic or family drama. The stunts in the movie are impressive and mostly done through practical effects; the majority of the CGI was used for spatially relaying where all the characters were and where they were going…like a fancy version of Google maps. David Koepp deserves a lot of credit for creating a world which is as intense and scary as you would imagine being a bike messenger would be. Still, there is a period towards the middle of the movie where there are about five to ten minutes spent without characters on bikes, and that feels a bit sluggish—while at the same time being the crux of the plot development. And while I had a lot of fun with the film, I could see people who don’t like films like, for example, The Bourne Ultimatum having problems with it.
It is great to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt getting bigger and bigger lead roles, and he fits this part perfectly, as a punkish free-spirit—perhaps being the best natural fit for a role like this since Keanu Reeves’s work in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. (Yes, his character’s name is Wilee…like the coyote…and they make that point several times.) It has been amazing to watch the evolution of his career from a teenage comic actor to dramatic powerhouse, and now movie towards the realm of action stardom. In contrast, I’m a bit more lukewarm about Michael Shannon. He can be incredible in some of his performances, but he also has a “dunce” persona that he does in films like Grand Theft Parsons, which drives me nuts. It isn’t that his work is necessarily bad, but just that I find his characters frustrating at times. In this movie, he rides that line, being both impressive and too crazy. This might not be a problem, depending on how you interpret the film, but if you want a straight thriller, it ends up being a bit cheesy.
The movie is fairly fun for what it is. If you a fan of the X-Games or just like fun stunt work, then this will probably be up your alley. The film is fairly entertaining and keeps things brisk at an 89-minute runtime, so it never really drags. I’m glad to have seen it once, but I probably will be in no rush to see it again. If you happen to see it in the theaters that’s fine, but it is not a big loss if you want to wait for home video.
Final Grade: B