by Steve Habrat
Imagine if you removed all the muscle cars and roaring engines from The Fast and the Furious and replaced them with human stamina, sweat, spandex, and tricked out bicycles. Keep the pretty faces and the nonstop chases and you’d have director David Koepp’s Premium Rush, an energetic late summer action flick that is quite the breath of fresh air. Thrusting us into the fast paced world of bike messengers who zigzag through the taxi-clogged streets of New York City, Premium Rush keeps you on the edge of your seat with the idea that these kids, who have nothing protecting them from the pavement but a helmet, could eat concrete at any time if they make one wrong turn. Slightly better than your average late summer throwaway blockbuster, Premium Rush does find itself swerving a bit due to some bland dialogue and a slightly flaccid middle section, but it does keep on its course due to the performances from Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon. It also sneaks by due to the premise, which centers itself on speed demon bike messengers who are addicted to the adrenaline rush they receive from dodging pedestrians and cars. It’s the type of film that I can honestly say that there is nothing else out there like it and truly mean it. Premium Rush is certainly a different approach to the action film. Somebody get these kids a bottle of Gatorade!
Premium Rush introduces us to Wilee (Played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt), an adrenaline junkie bike messenger who zips through the streets of New York City while explaining to us that office work just isn’t for him. This guy prefers Under Armour t-shirts and cargo shorts to a shirt, tie, and briefcase. He also happens to ride a bike with no brakes, which forces him to fully assess a tricky spot when he rides up on it. Wilee pedals along side his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Played by Dania Ramirez), who he is constantly trying to win back from cocky rival Manny (Played by Wolé Parks). Frustrated that Manny keeps jumping onto his routes and stealing his deliveries, Wilee nabs a job delivering for his friend and Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Played by Jamie Chung), who warns Wilee that he has to deliver her package by 7 P.M. What Wilee assumes is just another ordinary delivery turns out to be something much more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Wilee is soon being hunted down by corrupt NYPD officer Bobby Monday (Played by Michael Shannon), a desperate man who is after the contents of the envelop Nima has given to Wilee. As the chase gets more and more chaotic, Wilee has no other option but to turn to Vanessa to help him stay alive.
The argument can be made that Premium Rush is just one long chase scene that is filled out with a handful of flashbacks. While that is true, the film’s true plot, which won’t be spoiled here, is still good enough to keep us on the hook for the hour and a half it rides across the screen. Still, the middle section does find some of the air leaking out of its tires as things start to get a bit bloated. Luckily, a number of twists and turns keep Premium Rush riding at full speed. The film packs a number of marvelous chase scenes that find us riding right next to the fully exposed bike messengers as they attempt to not get blasted by a speeding New York driver. Wilee and his cohorts ride around a sea of yellow obstacles while cops on beefed up bikes pedal furiously after them. These chase scenes usually pause when Wilee arrives at a tricky obstacle or maneuver that he must pull off perfectly to avoid a couple of broken bones and a night in the emergency room. Director Koepp shows us the outcome of each maneuver and route that Wilee can take and what the damage will be if he chooses the route. I’ll be honest, some of them are pretty violent and brutal. These scenes are effective enough to keep your knuckles white for a good majority of the action.
When the chases aren’t engaging you, the acting of Premium Rush will surely hold your attention. Levitt, who has been everywhere this year and is riding off the success of The Dark Knight Rises, continues to wow us as Wilee, a charismatic and smart-mouthed hero who really gets a charge from putting his life on the line. He has flames in his eyes as he groans over the idea of settling down and getting a real job in a stuffy office. Levitt has really proved himself as an action star and Premium Rush has me ready for what Looper will bring for the infinitely talented young star. When the film moved away from Levitt, I worried that it would take a turn for the worst but luckily, Michael Shannon brings his bat-shit crazy best and really laps up playing the bug-eyed crooked cop Monday. Talking with a spiky New Yawk accent and laughing like a cartoon hyena dreamed up by Looney Tunes, Shannon really knocks the role out of the park. It’s a role that could have slipped into the cliché but Shannon manages to resist the familiar and he single handedly rides off with the entire movie. Everyone else just settles for good as they are completely overshadowed by Levitt and Shannon. Chung does an admiral job as a troubled woman who is nursing heartbreak and Ramirez gets by as the perpetually sweaty ally to Wilee. The only one who is really flat here is Parks as Manny, a smug jerk that comes up short against everyone else. Another stand out in the minor role depart is Christopher Place as an exasperated bike cop who is constantly being outsmarted by Wilee.
There are a few other aspects that hold back Premium Rush from being a really great film. At times, Koepp resorts to iffy computer effects during chase scenes and hypothetical crashes. These scenes are painfully noticeable and they are severely at odds with the scenes where the chase isn’t done on a computer. Furthermore, there are points where the dialogue will have you shaking your head (“This is the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on!”). Still, the actors grit their teeth and deliver it, never letting the characters fall victim to the flawed writing from Koepp and John Kamps. There is plenty to like in Premium Rush and I can honestly say I was never really bored during the film, although my attention slipped a bit during the redundant middle section. I will applaud the film because it works double time to keep things light and keep us entertained, just like a good summer movie should do. Overall, as the last of the summer blockbusters make their way into theaters, Premium Rush offers audiences craving one more adrenaline rush an espresso size shot of action to tide them over until the next wave of blockbusters takes over.