If you’re looking for a breezy, relatively smart action flick to alleviate the late summer doldrums, then you want to see Premium Rush.
Wilee (Wile-E – like the Warner Bros. coyote) is a bike messenger – the best of the lot three years running. As played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he’s a bit cocky, a bit quirky and all about the riding. His philosophy is summed up in three words, ‘Brakes are death.’ He’s a law school grad who chose delivery over the bar. Suits are simply not his style.
When Wilee gets a premium rush delivery (urgent and fast) just before he’s due to end his shift, he winds up in more danger than he’s ever experienced – and bike delivery is one dangerous trade. The envelope he’s delivering is of extreme interest to Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a corrupt cop. What it contains, and the whys and wherefores of its delivery – not to mention why Monday is so interested in it – are explained in a series of flashbacks that unfold as the chase progresses.
Along the way we also learn about Wilee’s relationship with Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), another delivery person, and his rivalry (professionally and romantically) with yet another delivery person, Manny (Wole´ Parks). There’s also a recurring appearance by a bike cop who has it in for Wilee – though director/co-writer David Koepp (Panic Room, Spider-Man) may have gone him one time too many..
What distinguishes Premium rush from the routine action/chase flick is the inventiveness of the chase itself; the way Koepp frames Wilee’s thinking as he analyzes various possible paths to take – and their possible repercussions (usually of the fatal variety if he chooses wrong) and the visualization of the best possible routes to his destination; shooting the chase from lower angles to bring a larger-than-life quality to the chase; intelligent use of the countdown clock, and the glimpses of bike messenger culture (there could have been a lot more, but we get enough to get the sense of a real community – which leads to terrific payoff).
Vanessa and Manny are just barely more than sketches, but Ramirez and Parks (especially Parks) have a lot of fun bringing more to them than is on the page.
While Gordon-Levitt is super as Wilee, Shannon really excels as Monday, who comes across as a bit of a buffoon – until suddenly he doesn’t. When it comes right down to it, Premium Rush is an extended duel between Wilee and Monday and it works because of these two performers.
Premium Rush is not just another action/chase flick. Bolstered by the details that unfold in the flashbacks and enhanced by original and occasionally disorientating directing from first-time director Koepp, it’s a serious dose of adrenaline and a lot of fun.
Final Grade: B+
Photo by Sarah Shatz/Courtesy Columbia Pictures