In an age where car chase scenes are obligatory when it comes to action movies, here is a film which consists almost solely of that very idea, except instead of cars chasing other cars, it’s cars chasing bicycles. And while other films often start to drag when they get to that part in the film — it often feels tacked-on — Premium Rush succeeds almost solely whenever it has its lead attempting to outrun a car and sometimes another bike on his own bicycle, which has no brakes, because that’s practical.
The aforementioned protagonist is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), like the coyote, who is one of 1500 bicycle messengers in New York City. He weaves in an out of traffic, runs red lights with great frequency, and has developed a keen sense for avoiding hitting anyone, or getting hit himself. He peddles as hard as he can, and he does this job for the thrill of it, not because it’s a lucrative endeavor. In addition, he takes the job very seriously. If he gets a package, it will get to the location on time and safely.
His skills are really put to the test in Premium Rush, which sees him given a package and moments later having someone else, who winds up being a corrupt cop, Bobby (Michael Shannon), demand him for it. He refuses, and the chase is on. Wilee will be biking all over the city in an attempt to escape his pursuers. In the beginning, it doesn’t seem like such a grave matter; once the movie really gets going, we see how serious Bobby is about this. That package contains something very valuable.
What it is, I will not reveal, although it is just a MacGuffin. It drives the plot along, and it is something desired by a bunch of people, but its true purpose within the story is too long and boring a story to tell here. In fact, I was tired of it when the film was telling it to me; I wouldn’t want to bore you with it now, and then when you see the film you’d have to get the exposition twice. So, I’ll save you from that now, but only if you promise to at least consider watching Premium Rush at some point in your life.
In fact, the only parts of Premium Rush that aren’t thoroughly enjoyable are the points in time when it uses flashbacks to establish back story. It gets boring as soon as we start to actually think about the plot or characters, which runs in contrast to many films. Most of the time, we want to get to know these people and grow to understand them. In this one, we want to keep them at arm’s length and just watch them go about their business. The thrill of the chase is all that matters.
The truly exciting moments of Premium Rush don’t come until its second half, when most of the stunts you’ll see in the trailer come into play. There are a few points earlier in the picture, but it’s only later when it becomes truly pulse-pounding. If you’re already sold in the beginning, the latter portions are incredibly enjoyable. If you’re not, then it’s unlikely that anything the film throws at you by that point will be sufficient. If this straightforward action film doesn’t hook you early, it’s never going to.
It’s that notion — that it’s concerned with absolutely nothing more than being an action film with no hidden agenda or ambitions beyond entertaining you — that could potentially alienate some of its potential audience. Believe it or not, lots of people care about characters and story, and Premium Rush has very little that fits into either category. If you can’t just mindlessly enjoy a film with as specific a goal as this one, then you should search for something else to watch, as you likely won’t enjoy Premium Rush.
You’ll miss some good performances if you skip this film, even if the actors are given very little to work with. If you have forgotten how amazingly psychotic Michael Shannon can act, this film will serve as a helpful reminder. In fact, because the villain is so poorly written, the only reason he’s a menace at all is because of how well Shannon plays him. In supporting roles, Dania Ramirez and Wolé Parks plays work colleagues, as well as the girlfriend and rival, respectively.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has to carry the film, however, and it’s with his charm, charisma, and determination that a believable character is created. You can believe that he is as reckless and carefree as the character is written because of the way that Gordon-Levitt plays him. And while it’s impossible to know exactly how much of the riding and how many of the stunts were performed by him, I completely believed that it was him for the film’s entirety. There were no moments that jumped out as impossible for the character.
Premium Rush isn’t great, and you don’t need to see it, but if you want to see a film sustained solely by its chase scenes — which last for the majority of its duration — and characters made credible not by writing, but by the performances, then you probably should give it a watch. It’s a lot of fun, and I definitely enjoyed it for its brief running time. It drags when it tries to explain back story, and it’s difficult to overlook how little is under the surface, but for a mindless, straightforward action movie, it accomplishes its goal of being entertaining.