Premium Rush resembles the title for a cheesy action flick from 1994. That banner year gave us On Deadly Ground, Terminal Velocity and Drop Zone. Factor in that it’s being released in the notorious dumping ground of late August and there’s every indication that this movie is going to be bad. What a refreshing surprise that the film is actually enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing you’re going to remember 2 hours after you’ve see it, but while it’s playing, it maintains enough pizzazz throughout. It breezes by in an efficient 90 minutes and we’re treated to an engaging adventure for the duration.
Wilee is a bike messenger. The story opens as he’s flung through the air from his cycle to the pavement. In flashback we meet Nima who pays a money launderer $50,000 of her own hard-earned savings from working 3 jobs. She acquires a mysterious ticket that she must have delivered to “Sister Chen” in Chinatown. Wilee is the one entrusted to deliver this precious cargo. But what would a tale be without an antagonist? That’s where Bobby Monday, a crooked NYC policeman, steps in. He is deep in debt to the owner of a Chinese gambling den and wants to get his dirty hands on his valuable delivery. Michael Shannon is high strung and wacky as the rogue cop. He’s playing up the ridiculousness of the whole picture with a shameless performance delightfully lacking in subtlety.
The plot plays out like a confusing puzzle that becomes clearer as the story develops. Mostly it’s no more than a swell exercise to show lots of cool scenes of bikes weaving in and out of NYC traffic. It’s a treacherous occupation intensified because Wilee’s bike doesn’t have brakes, nor does he want them. That’s right, he’s a hipster with a devil may care attitude. As Wilee zips around the city, we’re presented the distinct paths he has the option to take, each demonstrated with the often disastrous collisions that seem to be a common part of his job. These various “what if” sequences illustrating the alternate directions with GPS lines, are exhilarating. It’s the film’s strong suit.
Premium Rush is simply a good old fashioned action B movie. There’s not much logic or depth. The narrative rarely pauses for you to even make sense of what’s happening. It’s just go go go from one scene to the next. But it’s an entertaining ride all the same. As the chases unfold, they feel genuine and dangerous. It got my adrenaline pumping. I flinched on several occasions. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had to receive 31 stitches as a result of a very real crash landing through the rear window of a taxi during filming. The aftermath is notably shown in the middle of the closing credits. The hyperactivity works to the thriller’s favor. But when it’s all over, you’ll be hard pressed to recall any of it a day later. Premium Rush sounds like the latest energy drink. It functions as one too: high in caffeine, but low in nutritional value.