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Movie Review: Premium Rush

Updated on October 10, 2012

Director: David Koepp
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Aasif Mandvi, Dania Ramierez, Jamie Cheung, Wole Parks

The lead characters in Premium Rush are bicycle messengers in New York City. They peddle 50 miles an hour down busy city streets, making deliveries they'd be lucky to get $50 to make. Many of them are injured while on the job; some, as the main hero notes via voice over, have even been killed. So why do they do it? Some do it, mostly, for the thrill of it. They can't see themselves working in an office dressed up in a bland business suit all day. There's more freedom out there on the bike, and that freedom makes it the ideal job for them, even if the pay is lousy.

One of the many thrills in Premium Rush involves watching these characters try to maneuver through New York City traffic in order to make their deliveries on time. They are nearly run off the road by careless cab drivers, have to take detours through public grocery stores, have to dodge trailer trucks, run red lights, and maneuver past any other sort of obstacle the city has in store for them. Oh, the film eventually turns into a thriller, and a fairly predictable and formulaic one at that. Yet by that time, we're so far on the edge of our seats that it becomes easy to forgive the fact that we've seen some of it already, many times before.

The movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee, who is said to be the best bike messenger in a small company run by the fast talking, no-nonsense Raj (Aasif Mandvi). It is because he's said to be the best the reason he's hired by a young Chinese college student named Nima (Jamie Cheung) to deliver an envelope to a restaurant in Chinatown. What seems like an easy task turns incredibly complicated when Wilee is chased by Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a cop with a gambling problem, who needs that envelope to pay off some debts. As it turns out, the envelope contains a gambling ticket that is worth oodles of cash, and Nima needs that ticket delivered to Chinatown so the money can be used to pay for her son's passage to the US.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets more than he bargained for in "Premium Rush."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets more than he bargained for in "Premium Rush."

That's really all there is to know about the plot. There are a few subplots that receive only scant attention (Wilee is having trouble with his girlfriend and fellow biker Vanessa (Dania Ramierez), who just so happens to be Nima's roommate), and it's only when the movie slows down for said subplots that Premium Rush looses some of its edge. The characters here are not well developed in the slightest, and while it could be argued that that's pretty much the point, it makes those brief moments of drama positively cringe inducing. Thankfully, said scenes don't take up much of the film's brisk 91 minute running time. Premium Rush is a straight up exercise in adrenaline movie making, and with David Koepp behind the camera, it's a very successful one at that.

With help from Mitchel Amudson's excellent cinematography and the brisk editing by Derek Ambrosi and Jill Savitt, Koepp manages to pull off a number of action set pieces that are sure to leave you breathless. The film's first big action scene, where Bobby tries to run Wilee off the road, is a white-knuckled treat, and the scene where Wilee and Vanessa break out of a police vehicle pound is terrifically entertaining. The movie also uses CGI effects to good use, as during the scenes where Wilee calculates the best route to take to help him through traffic. And there is a wonderful moment at the close of the picture where Wilee is peddling down the street, fails to see an oncoming car, and...well, you'll see.

Through it all, we have Joseph Gordon-Levitt to carry us through. Levitt has shown some serious acting chomps in some deep and meaty roles in the past (his performance in last year's 50/50 was one of the very best of the year), and has, this year, started to take on more action oriented roles (first with the excellent The Dark Knight Rises, and now this). Levitt proves he's just as solid as an actor in a brainless action movie like this as he is in his more serious roles. He may not be playing the most likable character (and what bicycle messenger can afford to be?), but he brings a lot of charisma and intensity to the role, and keeps us involved every step of the way. Shannon turns in a delightfully over-the-top performance as the villainous Bobby Monday, and special mention must also be made of Christopher Place as a NYC bicycle cop who's been chasing after Wilee over the course of the film.

If there is one performer who doesn't make an impression, it's Wole Parks, who's stuck playing a thankless role as Wilee's rival Manny (and the chase between the both of them later in the film goes on a lot longer than it should).

Premium Rush is not a very deep movie, so those of you looking for solid character development are advised to look elsewhere. This is simply pure dumb fun. It has only one specific goal, and it accomplishes it with gusto and flair. That the movie is flawed is practically a gimme; no movie like this has ever been made immaculately (at least, none that I can think of). It's a fast, furious bit of summer time fun that is certainly deserving of its title. That it manages to be exciting even before it becomes a thriller is something of a rarity.

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

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