Premium Rush is basically a B-action film on bikes. There’s not much under its surface and that’s OK.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, “The Coyote” to his friends, a bike messenger who also happens to have an MA from Columbia University. He rejects the world of law and suits and would rather live the high adrenaline life as a bike messenger in New York City. He’s a simple biker but also the fastest and best, much to the chagrin of his co-worker Manny (Wole Parks), mostly owing to his refusal to use gears—riding a fixed gear—and brakes.
To his friends, co-workers and especially girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), it’s a death sentence. However, he never finds himself in real trouble until he agrees to pick up an envelope from Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) and soon finds himself the target of crooked detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon).
The film has a curious style. Taking place within a few hours of one day, it rewinds time throughout the day as new characters are introduced to explain where they’re coming from. While Wilee has no clue why Monday begins chasing him, it’s soon understood that he’s into some deep gambling debts with some bad guys. And the reason he’s after Wilee is because the envelope he’s carrying contains a “ticket” worth a lot of dough that would cover those debts. Sure, Wilee could give his life a chance and just hand over the ticket but he works for “Security Delivery,” security being the operative word.
Honestly, there’s not too much more to it than that. It’s a classic chase film in the simplest terms. Every character has a motive while Wilee also has his crosses to bear. Namely that his bike messenger girlfriend is angry he missed her college graduation and that she, along with everyone else, wonders why he doesn’t do more with his life since he’s so educated. But Wilee makes it clear that what “really scares [him]” is seeing people his age in suits, going to sit in an office everyday.
For such a simple film, it somehow all comes together. Mostly, this owes to Gordon-Levitt and Shannon’s superb acting skills. Gordon-Levitt is the kind of actor that lift a flat character off the page, and even more can be said for Shannon’s villain. Shannon has been unfortunately typecast as the villain, or offbeat weirdo, for some time but that’s because he does it so well. On paper, Monday is just a detective in a huge pile of trouble. On screen he’s a force to be reckoned with who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Shannon is purely menacing without any redeeming qualities, but with enough humanness inside to make him somewhat relatable.
Writer/director David Koepp, who last directed Ghost Town, makes a film that probably shouldn’t work—yet it does. It’s fun, tense and, at times, funny. The characters may be underdeveloped and lacking but Gordon-Levitt and Shannon are able to overcome that obstacle. Not everything works, Ramirez is a weak spot as a character and actor and the coincidence of the envelope belonging to her roommate is a bit much, but, surprisingly, it mostly does. In the end it’s just fun — and sometimes that’s all that’s needed.