Wilee (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a bike courier in New York City who loves his job. When he is given a job to be done ‘premium rush’, he finds himself up against a dirty cop who pursues him through the city.
Joseph Gordon Levitt is having a hell of a year; from being named as Robin in The Dark Knight Rises, to facing a future version of himself in Looper to racing around New York City on a bike. As Wilee, Gordon-Levitt is cocky but charming, and he has enough motivation to stay out on his bike and see his job through to the end. This is a character that the audience roots for because of his devil-may-care attitude and the skills he uses to back this up. Michael Shannon is an actor who has fast secured himself a name as someone to watch. As Detective Monday he is as unlikeable as his cop character in Boardwalk Empire, but he is also psychotic, selfish and violent. Shannon creates the perfect villain; just evil enough for the audience to root against him, which allows Gordon Levitt’s Wilee to be the Yang to his Yin.
The story of the film is solid enough, and is told through flashbacks and forward over the space of several days. However, the story is often sidelined for the sake of set piece bike chases through New York City, which are thrilling and fun to watch, but break up the story at times. These bike chases set the pace for much of the film, and when the cycling slows, so does the pace. This is a testament to the level of commitment given to the film, but also proves that director David Koepp has not yet found his footing behind the camera.
That said, New York City has never looked as intricate and interesting, and there are some little touches – including cameras being mounted on bike frames – with slow motion and graphics that add to the distinctive feel of the film and allow the audience to feel closer to the action. Sadly, supporting characters are sidelined throughout the film, but they appear in the resolution and get their moment of glory.
In all, Premium Rush is an odd sort of film; the idea is solid enough, but the execution becomes a little messy. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon remind audiences why they are at the top of their game, and the cycling scenes are a lot of fun to watch. It’s just a shame that substance is sacrificed for some (admittedly impressive) bike stunts.