Biking and movies never really have resulted in exciting cinema. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw a film where the star was on his bike, riding around the city, for the bulk of the film. Premium Rush is star Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s first vehicle film and despite the corny premise and general idea of the film, it actually works. It’s not the end-of-the-summer action thriller that will leave you speechless or impressed beyond reasonable expectations, but it’s actually a lot of fun because of JGL‘s performance and David Koepp‘s sporadic and enthusiastic direction.
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of those rare breeds of people that prefers being out and about riding his bicycle instead of settling for some comfy desk job. He’s also one of the last actual messengers that flings himself around New York City for a measly fifty bucks on a good day. There’s just something thrilling and life-threatening about his job that he loves and would not change for anything in the world. It’s in his blood and he’s damn good at it.
He’s been given a delivery that starts out as a normal pickup and drop off, but turns into the ride of his life. After receiving an envelope, Wilee continues to bike down the street until he gets stopped by a man named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). Monday appears to be an everyday bystander that works for the building in which Wilee picked up the envelope, but it is later revealed (via excellent time jumps and admirable camera work) that Monday is in fact a gambling police officer that owes a substantial amount of money to some dangerous men.
Monday’s goal is to intercept this envelope and exchange it for some quick cash, but Wilee’s caring self just won’t allow it. He’s motivated by a natural drive that excels him through life without as much as a brake. Wilee decides that this small envelope (which holds something very valuable) is worth him losing his life over.
Premium Rush sounds as silly and ridiculous as they come, but I promise you it’s worth it. Director David Koepp does something that I thought no one could do; he makes biking exciting! Never before have I been this engaged by a film that features a guy mostly riding around the streets for an hour and a half. But somehow against all of the odds, Koepp and his crew of gifted and very talented actors make Premium Rush a tight, fast-paced end-of-the-summer thriller that knows its limits and boundaries, but continues to push them.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt succeeds in his first solo-starring big-studio film. Up until this point he’s been playing crucial roles in films like 50/50 and The Dark Knight Rises, but Premium Rush is his first solo film. He doesn’t crack under pressure and instead he uses the film as a launching pad for his career as a believable lead. His portrayal of a risk-taking biker that just loves the freedom of the open road is hip and appropriate. He’s got a smile that just can’t be denied or hated and I’m happy to see him fit into such a role.
The real winner of the film is Michael Shannon and his over-the-top character Bobby Monday. He most resembles a character out of the Looney Tunes, with his accent allowing for some of the funniest grunts and groans on screen. He’s also completely crazy and he shows that bottle up rage by killing, shooting and beating up just about anyone that comes in the way of him and the money. It’s great seeing Shannon come off of such an impressive career turn in Take Shelter into a film that’s not nearly as serious, but still equally important in terms of making the character stick. He could have phoned his role in, but he instead chose to embrace it and make it his own.
David Koepp‘s direction is also a very vital piece to Premium Rush‘s success. He’s jam-packed the film with a surplus amount of creativity that surprises me, especially knowing that this is a studio film. There’s a lot of stuff that will make you think of Crank, but with less on-screen violence, but equal absurdity. It’s much more tame and age-appropriate, but it’s still kind of fun watching JGL‘s character pick out his biking paths and see the direct results of each action he makes. It helps separate the film from other late-summer entrants that studios try to sneak in for some quick cash.
Premium Rush has a constant flow of nonstop energy that is heightened by some impeccable camera movement that captures the motions of real bikers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to climb up that acting ladder, while Michael Shannon shows his lighter side with a bad guy role that will win you over. The spotty ending kind of hurts the film, but only because the film suddenly tries feeling a little too serious. There’s some really weird facial expressions and lots of Asians and bikers swarming around our main characters as they have a brief showdown.
I wouldn’t let those negative comments completely weigh down the film, because Premium Rush is mostly an energetic ride that thrills and impresses within its own realistic limits.
Premium Rush – 7/10