The year of Joseph Gordon Levitt continues with his new fast-paced, bike-messenger on a mission. With support from 2012’s other star-de-jour Michael Shannon, and Mission Impossible scribe driving the action is this Speed for a new generation?
Premium Rush takes his title from a delivery that must be made immediately if not sooner. Wilee is the bike courier who must make said delivery from the top of Manhattan, through the wild streets of New York down to Chinatown in just 90 minutes. Aside from traffic, pedestrians and other assorted nuisances in the worlds busiest city, he also must contend with renegade cop Bobby Monday who will stop at nothing to get his hands on that package.
First things first, Joseph Gordon Levitt is superb. His Wilee could easily be dismissed as a hot-headed, reckless, devil-may-care messenger boy, but JGL imbues a sense of calm into the nihilism, and manages to bring real depth to a very under-written character. Opposite him stands the colossus that is Michael Shannon. Shannon here taps into every crazy, deranged mad-man bad-guy character ever and brings to life a scarred, demonic, totally unhinged psychopath that any right minded individual would cycle miles to get away from. It’s scenery chewing at its finest and bodes well for Man of Steel. Dania Ramirez is good in the girlfriend role, offering depth to JGL in their encounters and showing that there’s more to her than just good looks. Jamie Chung has a horrible accent for a newly immigrated Chinese-person and every other character is as two-dimensional as the cartoon coyote that inspires JGL’s name.
David Koepp has a relatively poor track-record when it comes to directing, having helmed the pretty average Stir of Echoes, Secret Window and Ghost Town. His writing skills are better regarded having scripted the screenplays for Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man and War of the Worlds to name a few. With Premium Rush he’s on dual duties and surprisingly it’s his script rather than his eye which is the weak link. Visually Premium Rush is sublime with superb cinematography giving the action and New York a driving kinetic energy. When the action diverts away from the bikes, as it does in frequent flashbacks, the film loses focus. The inclusion of multiple supporting characters rob the film of the cat-and-mouse chase in an attempt to flesh out the story. Lessons could have been learned from the two best examples of this type of film, Duel and Speed, with the former offering no clarity around the chase, and the latter bookending it with an intro and coda and keeping the in-chase timeline linear. The stop-start nature of the plot isn’t the script only weakness, as large sections of dialogue are just poor and even Michael Shannon can’t make some speeches sound plausible. But then there’s that look, NYC has never been so fresh and vibrant, a mix of glass, concrete, relentless energy and reckless abandon. Even the Wilee-vision fits, although we could have done without the half-hearted GPS directional overlay view of the city.
All in all when the chase is on this movie really flies and the calibre of central performances, the cinematography and the thumping score help elevate this film above the predictable and hole-ridden plot. Entertaining and diverting it’s a pleasant way to spend 2 hours of an evening.