I’ve always said that the greatest moviegoing experiences are often the surprises. Yes, we all thought The Avengers was going to be great, and it was. But I had just as much fun being blown away by The Grey and Cabin in the Woods this year as well.
Premium Rush might not be quite as epic as any of those, but is better than a movie about bike messengers has any right being, and it’s unfortunate that a complete lack of an ad campaign has made the film something of a bomb, despite its “so hot right now” lead of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Levitt is Wilee, like the Coyote, a bike messenger in NYC with no fear. He traverses the streets at 50 miles an hour with no brakes, no gears and an apparent death wish. But as such, he’s the best at what he does and gets his package to where it needs to go on time, every time.
Did you hear I work with Batman?
It may occur to you to ask why exactly we need bike messengers running around a city in the day and age of the fax and email, but “when all that other shit doesn’t work,” Wilee says, you need them. Also, when you want to send something illegal.
That’s where we kick off as Wilee is tasked with taking a mysterious envelope across town for a young, seemingly fearful, college student Nima (Jaime Chung). As he’s trying to deliver it to her final destination, he’s pursued by the psychotic Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) who wants the contents of the delivery, and is willing to do anything to get it.
The result is a film filled with exciting bike vs. bike, man vs. bike and car. vs bike chases that are more exciting than any traditional car chase sequences in recent memory, and the film is more adrenaline fueled than any action flick where robots or aliens are blowing things up for three hours.
Is JGL a dwarf or is Michael Shannon freakishly tall?
Premium Rush is a tight ninety minutes and never stops moving just like its protagonist with a distaste for breaks. It wastes very little time, resulting in a heart-pumping feature that will have you tense for almost the entire duration. Bike messengers in NYC seems like an inherently boring concept for a film, but the way the action is shot here, it seems like as dangerous of a job as anything requiring guns or explosives. The main bad guys outside of the relentless Bobby Monday are garbage cans, cab doors and oblivious pedestrians, and they’re all terrifying.
JGL is well cast here, though it’s not exactly clear what percent of the time he’s onscreen, as surely a pro biker stunt double is in about half the shots we see. There’s not too terribly much actual acting he has to do here as the film barely slows down long enough for him to have more than a handful of lines, but he’s great as a sort of non-traditional action hero with a bike as a super power.
Michael Shannon is as much a weirdo as he always is as Monday, who has more than a few secrets which are revealed throughout the course of the film. He can seem over the top at times, but I think most other actors cast in the same role would have been pretty boring, and he does make for a memorable villain.
If there’s a third star of the show, it would be Wilee’s on-again-off-again girlfriend’s arms. Yes, you heard me. Dania Ramirez of Entourage and Heroes fame is Vanessa, and she probably should earn a spot on my “most ripped actors” list from last week, as in a film with almost no firepower, she’s got the biggest guns of anyone.
Hard to see here, but trust me.
The film sours a bit near the end, and finishes on a touch of an anti-climax, but what came before it was so exhilarating it doesn’t really matter. It’s an unusual action film, and it’s novelty is enough to make it worth watching. The fact that it’s well put together and executed is a pleasant bonus. It’s The Transporter meets Run Lola Run meets uh, the Tour de France. And it works, it really does.
4 out of 5 stars