As soon as PREMIUM RUSH begins, you get to hear the familiar opening of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” Well, at least I got one thing good out of this dumb film from director David Koepp. For the rest of the film, I’m stuck watching people ride bikes through New York City in what amounts to an elongated chase scene over the course of 90 minutes. Now I wouldn’t mind this so much if there were some impressive stunt work or maybe a little bike parkour to feast my eyes on. Then I could tell you to go in carrying a loaded iPod and some killer tunes to at least make the visuals interesting, since the stupidity of PREMIUM RUSH’s story isn’t likely to hold your interest. But the flick doesn’t even have that going for it. All it brings to the table is the opportunity for you to say you saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt slumming it in the worst motion picture he’s been in to date.
PREMIUM RUSH puts JGL in the role of bike messenger Wilee (yes, like the coyote, which the dialogue will go out of its way to point out on more than occasion). He’s a smart guy, who apparently just hasn’t gotten around to taking the bar exam. Why not? Well, he can’t fathom a life where he has to go to work wearing a suit every day. He’d much rather have to hustle for jobs on his beat-up old bike, which he rides with no gears or no brakes – that’s supposed to be a metaphor for his lifestyle. Well, on one particular day, he takes a run that calls for a package delivery from his old alma mater down to Chinatown. Unfortunately for him, the contents of his envelope are worth a lot of money and are sought after by Bobby Munday (Michael Shannon), a NYC detective who desperately needs to get his hands on it at all costs to settle some growing financial problems he’s facing. That sets up Wilee versus Munday in a battle for the envelope, bike against car, maneuverability taking on sheer mass. That could have potentially worked if Shannon wasn’t called upon to play such a buffoon with a badge that you never quite question if Wilee is going to be able to make his delivery on time. Impulse control issues are no substitute for intelligence.
Shannon gets to chew up some scenery as the over-the-top bad guy, including one actually funny scene where he gets to rail about the state of primetime television and the language they can get away with these days, but PREMIUM RUSH does a disservice to itself by never truly establishing him as someone JGL shouldn’t be fucking with. In fact, there are several instances where Wilee is actually within arm’s length of Munday, easily grabbable with the envelope there for the taking, only Munday takes these chances to then get back into his car and resume the endless chase.
Let me not forget the rival bike messenger… yep, they went there… who is after Wilee’s ex-girlfriend of only a few days, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), also a messenger herself. Manny (Wole Parks) wears plenty of spandex, rides a shiny new bike and talks in the third person. He thinks this means he’s automatically better than Wilee, and, as they sort of this barely there love triangle via Bluetooth, since they couldn’t just pull off to road to hash it out with everything that’s going on, he challenges and gets a race with Wilee through Central Park right in the middle of this other important chase that’s going on with the detective. Don’t worry… it gets worse.
David Koepp obviously believes he’s got a smart film on his hands due to the amount of technology he can show at his disposal in order to make bike riding through the city look cool. He uses tons of map zooms and street views as if he’s pulling them directly off his smartphone, which give PREMIUM RUSH no style whatsoever unless you find Google Maps to be artistic, and his use of slow-motion bike messenger vision (the biker can slow down time as they enter a troublesome area in order to see what would happen if they took that particular route) is unintentionally laughable as you can’t believe a film actually went there with such a cheesy device to convey the danger faced by messengers… especially the pursuing cop isn’t doing the trick.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon deserve better, so much better, than this hunk of junk. Shannon at least tries to do what he can to make the most of his fairly limited role, but there’s no saving this one from the trash heap. It’s a good thing I got “Baba O’Riley” again right before the end credits… that final reminder of such a classic song helped me walk out of the theatre easily forgetting the mindless fluff I just sat through.
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