Movie review by Greg Carlson
Lower your expectations and David Koepp’s “Premium Rush” entertains as late summer junior varsity Hitchcock. The increasingly appealing Joseph Gordon-Levitt commits far more than is necessary to his role as daredevil, fixed gear, no brakes courier Wilee, the innocent man caught up in a dangerous cat-and-mouse chase with a crooked gambler and NYPD detective played by creep specialist Michael Shannon. Flirting with near real-time action (interrupted by some unnecessary juggling of chronology to provide surprises and critical information to the audience), “Premium Rush” constructs its suspense around the perfect bike messenger MacGuffin: a highly valuable package desired by good guys and bad guys alike that must reach a destination by a particular hour.
The screenplay, by Koepp and John Kamps, wisely focuses most of the attention on the lightning-quick decisions and split-second reactions of Wilee on two wheels as he races around densely populated and dangerous thoroughfares. Whenever the film slows down to elucidate character motivation or complicate the plot, the chain comes off. A distracting love triangle involving Wilee’s ex – fellow messenger Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) – and another courier, Manny (Wole Parks), suffers from clumsy integration and a baffling lack of logic. At one point, a simple phone call from Vanessa to Manny could have saved a heap of trouble. The presence of a bicycle cop continually thwarted by Wilee’s pedal skill is played for comic relief, but the movie never settles on a tone that feels right, careening from cartoon gags to brutal violence.
Given Koepp’s reputation as a writer, “Premium Rush” is littered with too much empty-headed filler and too many bone-headed plays, including a silly tavern flashback that rehashes Manny’s jealousy over Wilee and Vanessa’s connection, a bizarre decision in which the previously dedicated Wilee returns the envelope after he’s in too deep to change his mind, an impound lot switcheroo, and the head-scratching nature of the relationship between Vanessa and her imperiled roomie Nima (Jamie Chung), whose troubles are revealed in a tidal wave of mawkish and manipulative sentimentality involving the illegal immigration of an adorable child.
New York dwellers can argue about the extent to which Koepp’s understanding of Manhattan geography hews to realistic time frames (the Post’s Kyle Smith scoffs at the film’s ticking clock, arguing that the envelope could have been more efficiently taken by subway in the span allotted). For a majority of viewers, however, the movie’s bird’s eye view graphics mapping out routes will add a welcome dimension to the street level stunts. Publicity for “Premium Rush” has emphasized the production’s commitment to real riding (an end credit video of Gordon-Levitt following a nasty crash that required more than two-dozen stitches is better than most of the feature). The movie’s smartest visual effects, imaginative flash-forwards similar to the idea used in Tom Tykwer’s “Run Lola Run,” show sets of potential outcomes whenever Wilee cuts it too close for comfort.
The culmination of the action in “Premium Rush” flubs the expectations of a good chase, placing the protagonist in the back of an ambulance instead of ramping up the adrenaline. Wilee’s close quarters confrontation with Shannon’s dirty officer might consciously or subconsciously pay tribute to the showdown between James Stewart’s hobbled Jeff and Raymond Burr’s nothing-left-to-lose Thorwald at the end of “Rear Window,” but unlike the Hitchcock masterpiece, “Premium Rush” will most likely take its place in cinema history alongside “Quicksilver.”