Through a succession of smart movie choices – (500) Days of Summer, Inception, 50/50, and Looper, to name just a few – Joseph Gordon-Levitt has fast emerged one of those rare young actors whose very name on a film’s poster is all the encouragement one needs to venture into the movie, no matter how obscure, no matter what its genre. Premium Rush, directed by David Koepp, is a respectable addition to the actor’s enviable of CV of unconventional but enjoyable films.
Set in the world of New York’s bicycle messengers who risk their lives daily riding up and down the busy streets of Manhattan hand-delivering urgent packages, Premium Rush sees Gordon-Levitt star as Wilee, an adrenalin junkie with a “no brakes, no gears” policy. One afternoon he gets a seemingly routine call to pick up an envelope from Columbia University Law School that he must drop off at an address all the way down in Chinatown. However, when a shifty NYPD detective (Michael Shannon) tries everything from gentle persuasion to chasing him in a car so he can intercept the envelope, Wilee realizes he has to count on his daredevil cycling skills and his insider knowledge of the city to stay ahead of the cop and to complete his job.
Director David Koepp who collaborated on the scripts of such popular hits as Jurassic Park and Spider-Man, keeps the action in Premium Rush urgent and breathless, following our reckless hero through rush-hour traffic with a sinuously mobile camera. The stunts are thrilling, and look dangerously real, which adds to the fun of this film; not to mention that Koepp has sworn Gordon-Levitt did most of the breakneck riding himself.
What doesn’t necessarily work is the romance between Wilee and a female bike messenger, and the corny “my bike is my life” philosophy that Wilee spouts. It also doesn’t help that the film’s real-time momentum is broken by those repeated flashback scenes.
Still, these are minor complaints in an otherwise tight action film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes for an immensely likeable protagonist, and Michael Shannon’s manic cop is a worthy adversary. The plot may be thin, and the big reveal a tad sentimental, but you will enjoy the ride.
I’m going with three out of five for Premium Rush. It’s the kind of film best enjoyed with a big helping of popcorn.