Review: 'Premium Rush', starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon
Wilee(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is like the king of the bicycle messengers. More accurately, he's like Evel Knievel mixed with Robert Downey's Sherlock Holmes, a breakneck daredevil with an amazing physicality matched only by his gift of foresight. He needs it to be the best of the nearly 1500 bike messengers zig-zagging their way through New York City's busy streets. Already one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet, Wilee strips down his bike for better speed and removes the brakes because slowing down is when messengers get hurt. He's an adrenaline junkie who may or may not have a death wish, but that's also why he's the messenger everybody wants.
One thing that will never be said about Premium Rush is that it lacks energy. It crackles with it from the very start, but struggles to keep the momentum going as the increasingly twisty plot begins to take shape. The film follows Wilee during a strenuous day in which everything that could go wrong does, and the world seems to be conspiring for things to end with him plastered on the hood of a car. His girlfriend Vanessa(Dania Ramirez) is a fellow messenger and may be leaving him for a flamboyant, chiseled colleague. She looks at life a little bit different than Wilee, who gave up a bright legal career for low-paying but thrilling gig where his speed and wits are all he needs to rely on.
He races into more trouble than he bargained for with his last delivery of the day, a "premium rush" that requires him to get all the way across town in 90 minutes against city traffic. A nearly impossible task under the best of circumstances, but it's made worse when the envelope he's carrying draws the attention of the comically imbalanced Bobby Monday(Michael Shannon), who really wants it for himself. Despite the threats of extreme violence, Wilee sticks to the bike messenger honor code and jets off, leading to a city-wide chase that involves keystone NYPD bike cops and Chinese mobsters.
Gordon-Levitt's one of the finest young actors working today, and in the last year he's stretched himself in a number of challenging roles. This may not be his finest acting showcase, there's more character in Wilee's bike than the man himself, but we've never seen him in a role that required this much endurance and tenacity. Performing a bulk of the insane, beautifully framed racing sequences himself, Gordon-Levitt suffered more injuries(including a busted up arm) here than in The Dark Knight Rises. Michael Shannon has the juiciest role by far, but it's not really due to Koepp's script. Shannon goes batcrap insane in a Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant sort of way, all rage and psychosis and desperation.
Long one of Hollywood's top scribes, David Koepp has found considerably less success when juggling writing and directing duties. Here he shows flashes of technical brilliance in the choreographing of Wilee's serpentine haste. The action slows down to a crawl and, in one of the film's more inspired ideas, Wilee is capable of seeing the results of the path he takes. Told you he was like Sherlock Holmes. Koepp wisely plays these moments more for humor than anything else, and he wisely doesn't use it to exhaustion. On the other hand, he leans too heavily on a Google Maps graphic that shows Wilee's arduous trek through the city. We figure out the motivations and whereabouts of everyone involved through a winding clock that jumps forward and backwards through time, but Koepp overuses it to the point of utter irrelevance.
Premium Rush gets out of the gate fast and has some fantastic stuntwork, but doesn't deliver enough consistent thrills to be anything special.