By all accounts, a male-driven action flick with races and chases flying down the streets of Manhattan is about as tired a concept as they come.But when the requisite muscle cars are replaced with NYC bike messengers, the “badass” quotes replaced with sly screenwriting that expects more from its audience, and creative, Adjustment Bureau-like graphics and double-takes replace flashy explosions, we have Premium Rush.A fresh, “green,” modern take on the action-thriller genre, this film wastes no time in jumping to action and leaving us mentally pedaling to keep up.Screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps quickly initiate us into the bike messenger subculture. Integrating the rules and rituals with telling details and accompanied by fast-paced cinematography, they provide us a way in without the use of clunky exposition.Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wiley, a law student turned bohemian bike messenger, the story begins as he unknowingly picks up a package that’s beyond the average courier fare. Along comes “the man” to Wiley’s free-spirited cyclist, NYPD Officer Bobby Monday, played with erratic intensity by Michael Shannon. When Monday’s peculiarly vested interest in the contents of Wiley’s messenger bag collide with Wiley’s refusal to breach messenger ethics, the chase begins.
Because the life of a bike messenger is time-sensitive, time jumps are creatively – and liberally – employed to establish suspense and intrigue. Though the film takes place within a very short span of time and the jumps toward the end stitch together coherently, the timeline is quite confusing from time to time. To give you an idea of what to expect: another Joseph Gordon-Levitt film, 500 Days of Summer, treats time with equal jumpiness.
Performance-wise, Premium Rush had its share of strengths. In an action flick, a heightened sense of reality is expected, and as such, the acting slightly larger-than-life. And though this movie isn’t likely to garner an armful of Oscars, the performances within were surprisingly subtle and well-suited to its style.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is known for his simplicity and subtlety as an actor, does not disappoint. He delivers a charming and engaging performance with welcoming credibility. His character, Wiley, a bike messenger who refuses to use brakes or gears, is likeable for the Evel Knievel in all of us, but just earthy enough that we won’t think him insane.
Michael Shannon’s Bobby Monday was twitchy, pushy, violent and yet emotionally available. This cop with impulse-control problems spends the course of the movie both as hunter and hunted, and Shannon does an excellent job of playing him without this knowledge. His performance clearly paints him as a villain, but more of a deeply flawed person, not an evil hooded figure.
Rounding out the community of bike messengers are a number of familiar faces, including Dania Ramirez as Wiley’s girlfriend and fellow-cyclist Vanessa, and the Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi as dispatcher, Raj. The performances of the entire supporting cast were realistic and provided a real sense of belonging in this action-thriller.
For cleverly reviving a tired car-chase concept and giving the audience something unexpected, Premium Rush was a delightfully unusual summer film. I have a feeling local bike stores are about to get a whole lot more business.