Premium Rush is an action movie as modestly sized as its hero, Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who claims, “I can’t work in an office. I don’t like wearing suits.” With this aversion to the corporate lifestyle, you’d think he’d be a record producer or a surf instructor. But Wilee’s a bike messenger. The director, David Koepp, borrows a trick from Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes and visualises Wilee’s thoughts as he zips across New York City, delivering express mail on a bicycle with no brakes and no gears. This way lies a collision with a lady pushing a perambulator. Go that way, and you’ll smash into a pedestrian. These amped-up scenarios firmly establish in our minds both the dangers in Wilee’s job as well as the adrenalin rush he derives from it. A character notes that Wilee has a death wish, but it’s more likely that this is how Wilee stays alive – chained to a desk while wearing a suit, that’s how he’d really die.
It’s life as an obstacle course, and Koepp keeps piling on the obstacles – the cab door that swings wide open without warning, the excited dog on a leash, the blind alley, and a number of people on Wilee’s tail. Chief among the latter is a crazed character named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who’s after a package Wilee is taking to a store in Chinatown. The thin premise feels stretched even at barely ninety minutes, and the emotional beats – involving Wilee’s on-off girlfriend (and fellow bike messenger) Vanessa (Dania Ramirez); Wilee’s romantic rival Manny (Wolé Parks); and the Columbia University student Nima (Jamie Chung) who hands Wilee the mysterious package – could have used some punching up. At times, it feels like there’s nothing at stake but the thrill of the chase. But this single-mindedness is the film’s strength. Premium Rush is the ideal popcorn movie, and, with its real-life stunts in real locations, also something of an anachronism in this age of computer-generated special effects. What you get is what you’d see.
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