It’s a bit of a tough sell: a thriller about a bicycle courier being chased through New York by guys in cars with guns but “Premium Rush” manages to pull it off thanks to a winning, high energy lead performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and snappy direction from David Koepp who keeps the action zipping along fast enough that you don’t really have time to think about how many times the bad guys could have caught our hero.
When thrill-seeking, high-flying college dropout bike messenger Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) picks up an envelope from his girlfriend’s roommate, he suddenly finds himself in a race against time to deliver the package whilst being pursued by corrupt New York cop Bobby Monday. Trusting to his skills and his bike, he uses his knowledge of the city to stay one step ahead of his pursuers as he races to get the vital package to its destination.
Although the philosophical waxing about the purity and spirituality of ‘the ride’ wears a bit thin quite early on in the movie, the bike sequences, stunts and set pieces are inventive, engaging and thrilling, bearing comparison with the pedal-powered action of films like “Project A”, albeit without the acrobatic Jackie Chan moves. Taking its cue from recent iterations of Sherlock Holmes, the film also has a neat pseudo-satnav gimmick where we see Wilee figuring out his optimum route. The effect is pretty cool and makes for some entertainingly gruesome and bone-crunching potential outcomes.
The film flirts with derailing its central conceit a few times – in the beginning there are at least two occasions where Shannon’s cop character could have caught the courier easily but gives up running far too soon but in general the cat and mouse elements play out well, with an entertaining side-quest of another cop – this time a long suffering New York bike cop – trying to catch up with Wilee, without much luck.
Managing to pack a lot into its compact running time, there are a few underdeveloped subplots, including a vague love triangle between Wilee, his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and rival courier Manny (Wolé Parks) and an undercooked existential crisis preventing Wilee from finishing his law degree but they don’t really add anything to the film so their absence isn’t felt. Shannon is far more restrained here than his way over the top turn in “Man Of Steel” but still manages to convey the menace of a crooked cop getting ever more desperate as time runs out on him.
Supporting the chase is a pretty good plot centred on the contents of the package and why everyone is after it. Rather than slow down the action for the exposition, the back story is gradually revealed throughout the film via a time-jumping narrative structure which will be familiar to fans of “Person of Interest”.
A small scale action film that nevertheless packs a decent punch, this is a really fun thriller which seems to have sailed under most people’s radar but it’s smart, entertaining and deserving of a wider audience.