(3 out of 5 stars)
Premium Rush is an urban action thriller about Wilee (like the Coyote), a Manhattan bike messenger who picks up an envelope that a corrupt cop is desperate to get his hands on. It uses old-fashioned stunt work in combination with digital maps and a non-chronological plot to keep its 91 minute runtime accessible.
The story is told in a fractured manner, which has become standard practice for thrillers. Jumping through the day with a digital clock to orient the viewer, Premium Rush hits many familiar plot points. Despite the familiarity it won’t feel like an assembly line film because it has a good script and strong performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon.
Gordon-Levitt, who was once best-known as “Tommy” from 3rd Rock From the Sun, plays Wilee. His performances in 50/50, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises have started him on the path to being an A-list star. The last 10 years of his career is a mix of art house and blockbuster, and his performances have been stellar in both. With mind-bender Looper and Oscar-bait Lincoln on the way, he has picked the perfect time to be involved in an easy entertainer like Premium Rush.
The role of corrupt cop, Bobby Monday, is a great one for Shannon. The on-the-edge psycho character is suited to Shannon’s unique voice and physicality. Shannon is not a household name and his face is probably only familiar to the small audience who has seen his indie-drama work such as Revolutionary Road or Take Shelter, or in his role as Agent Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire. Next year he will bring a new on-the-edge psycho to life as General Zod in the Superman reboot, Man of Steel. Some have called him the next Christopher Walken, but until Shannon tries full-on comedy he is more likely to follow his Zod predecessor Terrance Stamp and continue to play corrupt psychos, which is fine because he is terribly good at it.
Premium Rush is directed and co-written by David Koepp, who is best known for writting the screenplays for Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, and War of the Worlds, but he also directed the entertaining Stephen King adaptation Secret Window. A major part of Koepp’s career has been as a script doctor, and many of the better Hollywood adventure films of the last 20 years have his fingerprints on them.
If there is a criticism to be layed on Koepp’s direction it is in the overuse of 3D maps and other digital flourishes. When Wilee approaches an intersection, the film slows down to show him imagining his route options. These scenes are, at times, funny or suspensful, but the “Frogger vision” gimmick runs dry and spoils some of the tension.
I tend to get annoyed when characters in action films act stupidly just to extend the plot; a practice that is nearly universal in recent thrillers. Luckily, David Koepp is an old pro at this and he keeps the contrivances to a minimum. By the end of the film you won’t be thinking that you could have handled the situation better. Unless, that is, you are a world-class athlete, bike acrobat, and an expert at interpersonal communication.
Premium Rush is worth the ticket price, but it’s also worth the rental price. It isn’t an event picture like The Dark Knight Rises or a potential mind-bender like Looper, so there is no need to hurry. It is an exciting and entertaining action thriller that will be just as exciting and entertaining if you happen upon it on cable next year, but if you’re looking for a new action film then this is your best option until James Bond returns in Skyfall on Nov. 9.