Movie Review: Premium Rush
The Charlotte Observer
The simple, utterly satisfying “Premium Rush” delivers just what the title promises.
It offers nonstop action without chaos, a plot that’s just complex enough to keep us guessing but never far-fetched, characterizations that don’t run deep but provide just enough detail for us to understand these people.
David Koepp got rich and famous writing scripts for the enjoyable, effects-driven “Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Spider-Man.” Here he goes back to his roots in down-to-earth thrillers, directing for maximum tension and writing the lean script with “Zathura” collaborator John Kamps.
You’ll want me to tell you as little as possible about the plot, so here’s all you need to know: A Chinese graduate student at Columbia University (Jamie Chung) holds a piece of paper worth $50,000. She’s afraid for her safety and hires bicycle messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to deliver it within 90 minutes to a Chinatown address. Monday (Michael Shannon), a rogue New York City cop who needs the money just as badly, tries to intercept it.
Zoom. Boom. Doom.
The writers create a bit of a romance and a bit of a back story for Wilee: He’s got a crush on another messenger (Dania Ramirez), and he insists on defying convention – he quit Columbia’s law school just before taking his bar exam – and putting his life on the line for speed: His bike has one fixed gear and no brakes, and he darts through traffic with manic disregard for life and property. (The movie doesn’t romanticize bike messengers: They come off as daring and hard-working but reckless and crazy.)
Koepp directs with flair, using superimposed maps of the city and first-person, slow-motion visuals to show what’s in the minds of riders who make calamitously fast decisions. Chase scenes look dangerous yet have a funny side: A dogged NYPD bike patrolman (Christopher Place), always a few seconds behind success, spends the whole movie pursuing Wilee.
That’s an in-joke, of course: Wile E. Coyote is the animated sap who spends his whole life chasing Road Runner, inevitably taking a beating and going without a meal. The film’s full of small, fast jokes: A bike lane in Central Park shows the chalk outline of a corpse, and the cop uses the false name “Forrest J. Ackerman.” (Cue applause from horror fans, Koepp included.)
If the movie has a shortcoming, it’s in the casting of Shannon, who has played creeps and/or nut jobs in all nine of his films that I’ve seen. (When the cop announced, “I have impulse control issues,” people in the theater giggled.) For once, he’s not nutty enough: The situation, which could cost him his life, doesn’t make him sweat. He’s just another manic Monday, not a guy at the end of his rope.
The rest of the acting meets a high standard, including Wolé Parks as Wilee’s narcissistic competitor and Aasif Mandvi as their spacey boss. None gets the kind of monologues for which actors long: The dialogue consists almost entirely of short, intense bursts, the verbal equivalent of this wild physical ride.