I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down in the theater for Premium Rush. The movie wasn’t really on my radar, and other than the fact that I really like both the principal actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon, there wasn’t much else drawing me to it. And it also seemed to me that the movie was a little late to the party, at least when it came to a story about bicycle messengers in NYC. This might have seemed like a fresh idea about ten years ago, but now?
The story centers around a NYC bike messenger named Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who seems to have a death wish. He rides a fixie with no brakes (give the man a mustache and a bad haircut and he could be an Austin hipster on E. 6th St) and makes a big deal about how he never wants to wear a suit to work. Turns out he went to Law School at Columbia University but never took the bar exam. So this super smarty-pants semi-hipster gets personally requested by his ex-girlfriend’s roommate, Nima (Jamie Chung), to deliver a package from Columbia University to Chinatown. And it has to be there by 7pm and delivered directly into the hands of one Sister Chen, a snakehead (you find out what that means later). The package consists of a ticket that happens to be worth a lot of money. The roundabout setup for this ticket is a little outside the bounds of believability. I found myself thinking of several ways they could have avoided the whole issue of needing a courier in the first place, but I’ve seen worse plot holes so it didn’t effect me too much.
Now, enter Detective Monday (Michael Shannon). Shannon is an excellent bad guy, even when playing the most stereotypical corrupt cop on the NYC police force. He has a gambling problem and owes a great deal of money to some shady Asian gambling ring. He gets a tip from one of them about this magical ticket (how they knew about it I’m still unsure) and he spends the rest of the movie trying to obtain it. Pretty basic set up, no? Writer/Director David Koepp keeps it interesting by moving the story backwards and forwards in time, first showing what happens and then moving back to show the lead up. Kind of a tired device but it works in this respect. He also take a lesson from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Remember that super smarty-pants bike messenger? He does the same thing with bike routes that Holmes does with street brawls – he sees all possible routes and outcomes in split-second-slow-motion, then chooses the correct course of action to ensure success. It may have less style than Ritchie’s Holmes, but it lends itself to a few pretty comical moments.
Intertwined with the cat and mouse game between courier and cop is the romantic sub-plot between Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and Wilee. They both work for the same courier company, are kinda split up, but not really, and Vanessa is being pursued by the uber-Alpha-dog-courier, Manny (Wole Parks). The clash of egos between Manny and Wilee comes to a climax in a bicycle chase scene through the park but I found this part to be excruciatingly boring. How long did the filmmakers think they could keep a bicycle chase pissing contest interesting? It went on WAY too long.
Everything eventually comes to a head between Wilee and Detective Monday, but the bike messenger community steps up to help save the day. Poetic justice for the bad guy, just like so many B-movies from the 80′s and 90′s. Ridiculous, but it kinda makes you feel good.
Overall I give Premium Rush 2.5 out of 5 stars. Good for a matinee or rental but nothing I’d write home about.