David Koepp | 87 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a Manhattan bicycle courier in this near-real-time action-thriller from co-writer/director David Koepp. Charged with getting a letter from one end of Manhattan to the other through rush hour traffic ASAP, Gordon-Levitt finds himself coming up against a loony cop (Michael Shannon) who for some reason is desperate to get his hands on said envelope…
The emphasis is firmly on “action” during the film’s brisk hour-and-a-half running time, the plot primarily an excuse for bike-related chases and stunts. And that’s fine by me. You don’t need to be a cycling nut to enjoy what’s on display here, much as you don’t need to be a petrolhead or NRA member to enjoy regular action movie theatrics. There aren’t many (or any?) action flicks based around pushbikes, so the whole thing comes across as pretty original. Mix that with invigorated direction, especially in the editing and graphics (think Sherlock), but which doesn’t sink to en vogue handheld action choppiness, and you have a movie that feels both classical (many reviews note a sense of early-’00s-ness) and almost innovative, a winning combination that feels fresh.
Although the bike chases and tricks are the star of the film, the story is uncommonly structured through an array of flashbacks, gradually unveiling everyone’s motivations in a series of overlapping perspectives that reveal why the little envelope is so important. It still feels like someone came up with the bike-action concept and then worked out a plot that would facilitate it, but piecing together the mystery adds another level of entertainment. There’s also some romance guff that could’ve been cut without hurting anything, but Koepp wisely keeps it to a couple of fast scenes and lines so it never intrudes too heavily.
Gordon-Levitt makes for as appealing a lead as ever, not that his charm is called on much, while Shannon is a memorably crazed villain. He’s a better fit here than he was as Man of Steel’s General Zod, but he’s a delectable nemesis in any context. It’s true that his barminess serves to stretch the concept’s real-world plausibility, but so does a thin bit halfway through that struggles to drive the scenario on to feature length, not to mention a boatload of Chinese gangster stuff. But hey, this is an action-thriller — if you want real-world plausibility, you’re in the wrong genre.
Basing an action movie around bicycles is a pleasant twist on the familiar, making Premium Rush a serviceably entertaining hour-and-a-half for those who like straightforward thrills and well-made chase sequences.