- Movie Rating -

Premium Rush (2012)

| August 24, 2012 | 0 Comments

Premium Rush is a fun, smart little movie that employs a clockwork plot that is worth your time.  Finally, at last, here is a summer chase film that doesn’t insult your intelligence or waste your money.  It may not seem that way from the outset.  You may ask: What possible interest could there be for a movie about daredevil delivery bike riders in New York?  Under sharp direction and with some nice performances, it turns out to be a lot better than you might expect.

The setting is downtown New York amid daredevil bike riders who make deliveries for up to $50 a pop – with more available if they get there early.  They weave in and out of traffic, up and down streets narrowly avoiding death at every turn. We see them racing down busy streets avoiding cabs, buses, police cars, pedestrians and constructions sites. The cyclists prefer not to have brakes on their bikes because they can see the scenario in their minds as they are approaching a potentially deadly situation – go right and you’ll get squashed by a bus, go left and you’ll hit a baby carriage.  They can see that the better route is to squeeze between the bus and the cab that is about to hit a lamp post.

The best bicycle delivery boy in New York is Wilee, as in Wile E. Coyote (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whose name and reputation are so legendary that customers ask for him by name.  He likes his profession because he sees a life behind a desk to be a personal prison.  He is part of a small group of delivery people that also include Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), his potential girlfriend and Manny (Wolé Parks), his potential rival.

The adventure begins when dispatch sends Wilee to meet a sad-eyed Chinese college student named Nima (Jamie Chung) who desperately needs an envelope delivered to Chinatown by 7pm.   Leaving the campus, he meets a shifty cop named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) who, for reasons he won’t explain, wants the contents of that envelope.  Despite Wilee’s explanation that there is confidentiality in profession – cop or not – Monday doesn’t give up.  What follows is a chase, a good one, through the streets of New York as Monday’s car chases Wilee on the bike.  What gives the chase its tension is that obviously the bike can take more shortcuts than Monday’s car.  But director David Koepp knows how to keep the chase interesting.  He doesn’t use a lot of confusing editing, but lets us know where each player is at all times and what is at stake.

The contents of the envelope are not just a MacGuffin, nor is it simple-minded.  It isn’t drugs or cash or missile launch codes, but something that could mean potential freedom for several people.  What Wilee is carrying turns out to be a family matter for Nima, and a life and death matter for Monday.  To explain the motivation, the movie employs a very helpful device.  All through the movie, the clock occasionally winds backwards so that we see the origin of the character’s need for that envelope.  A flashback tells us why it is so important to Nima.  Another flashback tells us why it is so important to Monday (he has a gambling debt).  Another flashback tells us how and why Monday knows about Wilee.  There’s even a flashback to tell us how Wilee got his bike – not necessary but it is a nice touch.   These devices help build the tension and construct a story that has our attention at all times.  With that, we understand how and why all of the characters know each other.  That’s clever, unlike this summer’s other chase pictures, “The Bourne Legacy” and “Total Recall” which just employed a blind chase without a lot of motivation, this one is very sharply written so the chase sequences actually mean something.

Of course, this plot wouldn’t mean anything without good casting.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a former child actor who has made a name for himself as a natural and very reliable actor in films like The Lookout, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.  And Michael Shannon (who will play General Zod in next summer’s Superman adventure Man of Steel) is perfect to play the villain here.  Shannon is an intense actor with a scary screen presence and his work here as a man coming apart under his own desperation displays the same tension that he brought to his bravura performance in last year’s Take Shelter.

The movie was directed with sure-fire skill by David Koepp, a screenwriter whose credits include Jurassic Park, Panic Room, Spiderman and Carlito’s WayPremium Rush may not be a masterpiece (some of the stunts are quite perposterous), but it is a clever movie, tightly written, well acted, well directed and with a lot of smart action.  It is proof that any dull premise can be made exciting with just a little imagination.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.