Premium Rush isn’t sure if it wants to be a thriller or a Roadrunner cartoon. It instead follows a route somewhere between those two, and ends up failing on both counts.
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had graduated from law school but instead of sitting the bar he has taken a job as a bicycle messenger in New York City. He rides a bike that has no brakes and only one gear – as fast as he can pedal. It’s a competitive job, where his nemesis Manny (Wole Parks) puts the moves on his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) as well as steals deliveries whenever he can.
Wilee’s called to do a pickup at his old law school by Vanessa’s former roommate, Nima (Jamie Chung). Nima had asked Vanessa to move out on short notice, without giving her a clear reason why. Now Nima wants Wilee to deliver an envelope to a woman in Chinatown, far downtown from the school. It’s 5:30 and it must be there by 7 p.m. Wilee says it will be tight getting it there in time, but he’ll do it.
But as Wilee’s preparing to leave, a man (Michael Shannon) comes up and says he’s one of the deans. He has the receipt that Wilee had given Nima, and he wants the envelope back. Wilee explains that once the envelope goes into his delivery bag, it doesn’t come out until it reaches its destination. Wilee manages to get away from the man, but he gives chase in his car. He’s later identified as Bobby Monday, and he has a very large secret.
The movie was written and directed by David Koepp, whose work as a writer (Jurassic Park, Death Becomes Her, Spiderman) and a director (Stir of Echoes, Secret Window) has been quite effective in the past. This time, though, there are holes in the plot that you could ride a bicycle through. He’s set it up at first like High Noon, taking place in real time, but that’s abandoned with the use of flashbacks and seeing the same scene from multiple angles, as well as a plot line that destroys the premise. The visual style is like Google maps gone wild, though it’s not as clear as the mapping you see on Discovery Channel’s Cash Cab.
The actors don’t have all that much to do beyond riding bicycles and talking on cell phones. There’s a subplot with a bicycle patrol cop (Christopher Place) who’s trying to catch Wilee, but it’s just Yosemite Sam going after Bugs Bunny – a simple bit of comic relief that gives a reason for more stunt riding.
That said, the stunt riding is the best part of the movie. It’s filmed with exciting perspectives and cuts, and a clip included in the credits shows that Gordon-Levitt did put himself at risk doing the role. He does shine above the muddle of this move, but I’m looking forward more to what he’ll do in Looper later this fall.
The main weakness of the movie is the Bobby Monday character. Michael Shannon was quiet good in last year’s Take Shelter, but here he is an over-the-top caricature with a broad New York accent and an annoying giggle. As a heavy, he doesn’t create any tension – you don’t believe he’s a serious threat (or a real person). In a scene that should have been the emotional climax of the film, the audience ended up giggling back at him.
The only premium to put on a rush with this movie is to get away from the theater where it’s playing.