Film Review: Premium Rush

Directed By David Koepp
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung and Wolé Parks

Race-against-time chase thriller Premium Rush has an uphill ride ahead of it from the get-go. Set in the danger-courting, thrill-loving world of bicycle messengers, it’s geared (no pun intended) around a cast of characters who’re inadvertently almost as detestable as the film’s actual villain. Thankfully the magnetic Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a breakneck pace make this an incredibly fun, if flawed action movie.

Former law student Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) lives to ride. Rather than take the bar exam and become a high-paid, respected, suit-wearing lawyer, he took a job as a bike courier for peanuts a day purely for the thrill of speeding around the city on two wheels, a borderline death wish making him the best at what he does. When he lands an assignment to deliver an envelope from his old college across the city to Chinatown, it seems like an everyday job, but Wilee’s soon on the run for his life from a dirty cop who’ll stop at nothing to collect what’s in the package.

Premium Rush isn’t the first to try glamourising a dangerous and deadly pastime, but it’s rare that a fun and unassuming action flick embraces leads that are such utter scumbags. The crew of renegade couriers all have cooler-than-cool nicknames and view their sport with the zen-like romanticism of Bodhi from Point Break, but it’s tough not to pause and wonder why you’re supposed to like these people as they mount the pavement with an aggressive sense of entitlement, knocking people down, grinning as they cause deadly pedestrian collisions and swiping at car doors with hefty chains like they’re playing Road Rash.

Still, if you’re going to fill your movie with hateworthy morons, casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s in the lead’s probably the most inspired way to pull it back from the brink, and he makes Willee an instantly likeable character by sheer force of charisma. One of the most talented, interesting actors of his generation, Levitt proves just as at home in light, breezy popcorn action movies as in more substantial, riskier indie fare, delivering the script’s sillier sub-Fast & The Furious dialogue with more gleeful conviction than should be humanly possible. He’s matched evenly by Michael Shannon, who’s clearly relishing playing the movie’s crooked cop villain, cranking up the unhinged sliminess to deliriously enjoyable OTT levels.

Plot-wise, Koepp doesn’t pace things as tightly as he could, and even at a brisk hour and a half, there’s a little mid-section bloat. Koepp’s so eager to get the tyres on the floor and hit the ground riding from minute one that he’s inevitably forced to slam on the brakes and cram in unwieldy flashbacks to show the nature and origin of that pesky package – flashbacks that often catch up to and rehash events we saw happen earlier and could’ve just as easily been handled with a stray line or two of dialogue.

It’s a film that’s far better when it’s zipping forward with reckless abandon from one speedy, action-packed set-piece to the next. Koepp tosses in an abundance of adrenaline-fueled chaos with Gordon-Levitt narrowly dodging traffic collisions, evading cars at full speed and bike-tricking his way out of danger every few minutes. Things barrel forward at a fast enough pace to fly past any annoying plotholes and Koepp stages his action with some fun, fast-paced visual flair as the camera segues from the bike action into cell phone GPS displays and up above the city to Google Maps style views to stylishly plot out Wilee’s journey. There’s even an entertaining recurring bit of visual goofiness as Wilee has a split-second ‘Which route should I take?’ decision at intersections and we get to see the various bone-crunching crashes that’d result in each one before he picks the path of least destruction.

A head-on collision between Kevin Bacon bike messenger movie Quicksilver and the cross-city race-against-time thrills of Cellular, it’s a taut, propulsive chase movie that manages to overcome its occasionally muddled pace and mostly unlikeable characters. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is as charismatic as ever and the exhilarating action’s pulled off with enough visual flair to make Premium Rush a fun, breezy popcorn movie.

The Film:

Premium Rush is out in cinemas now.