No matter how formulaic or deceptively pedestrian a movie may be, the ingenious use of imagination, skill and determination of a talented filmmaker can turn any cliché into something we’ve never seen before. Such is the case with Premium Rush, a film about the covert world of urban bike messengers, not to mention a very literal adaptation of the old adage “don’t shoot the messenger”.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises) plays Wilee, a bike messenger who couldn’t imagine living out his life wearing a suit and sitting in a cubicle. He might reconsider, however, after inadvertently becoming a target when accepting a delivery that a dirty-as-garbage cop, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon; Take Shelter), is determined to intercept. Before long, everyone in Wilee’s life – from his ex-girlfriend (Dania Ramirez; American Reunion) to her roommate (Jamie Chung; Sucker Punch) — gets dragged into the chase, all the while our hero remains determined as ever to deliver his package. FedEx, hire this man!
Writer/director David Koepp has a distinguished career in ratcheting up the tension, having scripted such nail-biters as Mission: Impossible, Panic Room and Jurassic Park. But even though Koepp’s a veteran at scripting action, Premium Rush is his first all-out foray into it. You wouldn’t know it, though, given the film’s visual ingenuity and startling number of in-camera stunts, making for some of the best chase sequences you’ll likely see this year.
Well on his way to becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes a character with less backstory than the Looney Tunes character he’s likely named after and effectively grounds him in reality. His scenes with Michael Shannon are white-knuckle hot, but while Bobby’s villainy is revealed through a series of flashbacks, Wilee’s heroism is explored in the heat of the moment. He is a man defined by what he does, not what he says; the evolution of his character can be charted via his changing reaction to the responsibility unwittingly placed upon his shoulders. Think Speed, but with bicycles.
It’s not always a smooth ride, though, as once we finally discover the meaning behind the mystery parcel, things quickly go from intriguing to typical; gritty to sugary sweet. Still, it’s the kinetic energy Koepp injects into the premise that overshadows the predictable plotting and pushes your pulse into the danger zone. Much like the film’s hero, Premium Rush delivers the goods.