Movie Review: Premium Rush
David Koepp is best known as a writer (Panic Room, Angels and Demons), but he occasionally forays into the world of directing, with mixed reception from audiences (Stir of Echoes, Ghost Town). Koepp attempts to tackle the tired car chase genre in Premium Rush … aka The Secret Life of Bike Couriers. He manages to infuse his project with some playful, innovative visuals, setting it apart from the standard paint by numbers action flick. I’m not sure the approach completely worked for me, but I’ll give fellow props for trying.
Premium Rush tries to sell the ridiculous idea that riding a bike as a courier in New York is a constant game of life or death, even under the best of circumstances. These dedicated adrenaline junkies punch the clock because they love the rush of darting through treacherous traffic, despite an alleged ongoing risk to life and limb.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee (yep, a play on the ever suffering Looney Tunes coyote), a young man who should have/could have/ would have graduated from law school, but prefers the concrete jungle to the stark confines of a cubicle. Wilee works for a courier business that does double duty as soap opera central. It seems that everyone possessing a male chromosome is vying for the attention of Vanessa (played by Dania Ramirez, the poor man’s Michelle Rodriguez), causing some inter-office antagonism, particularly between Wilee and Manny (Wolfe Parks), who likes to frequently pontificate about the circumference of his thighs, clearly a sign of physical superiority in bike-courier circles.
Things start clipping along when Wilee has the misfortune of taking the wrong assignment. He is supposed to deliver a mysterious envelope to a woman in Chinatown, and he takes his job very seriously. Wilee finds himself trying to elude a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) while he zips through various life-threatening obstacles.
The movie is simply ridiculous, but so are most traditional action flicks. It seems like it would be playing dirty to not give the film a pass for being a summer popcorn flick. Koepp does provide some genuinely engaging scenes. An ongoing gag entails Wilee making a split second decision at every intersection he encounters. He imagines horrific scenarios based on his choice of route, and it provides a welcome bit of comic relief.
Michael Shannon also plays his character for laughs. His take on cop Bobby Monday is as over the top as Nicholas Cages’s character in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which he incidentally also appeared in. He’s hysterical, and one of the best reasons to see the movie. It’s a welcome turn following last year’s deadly serious Taking Shelter. Here Shannon gets a chance to really chomp the bit at an entirely different film. I suspect his performance alone will launch Premium Rush into cult film status.
Unfortunately, I think that is all it will be relegated to. A very strong first act becomes a collection of rote action sequences. Gordon-Levitt is believable as a hipster with a death wish, but the last half of the movie gets bogged down by too much of the same old stuff. Bike nerds might find the movie to be the stuff dreams are made of, but everyday men need not apply. The insider baseball look at bike couriers loses its charm rather quickly.