Films like "Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises," and "(500) Days of Summer" have given Joseph Gordon-Levitt quite the fan following. While he may (and continue) play leads in indie comedies and dramas (such as last year’s "50/50"), the bigger budgeted, action-thriller genre has left him with supporting roles. That changes with "Premium Rush," which gives the actor top-billing as a bike messenger chased up and down the streets of Manhattan. Too bad the actor, who always seems meticulous in choosing his roles, misses the boat with the clunky, nonsensical thriller.
Looking to make some extra cash, bike messenger Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) agrees to deliver an envelope for an anxious friend (Jamie Chung) unaware of its contents. Complicating matters is a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) willing to do whatever it takes to get the envelope. As if running from the cop isn’t enough of a headache, Wilee is also trying to salvage his relationship with his fellow bike messenger girlfriend (Dania Ramirez) and deal with a jealous rival (Wole Parks) who is trying to move in on both Wilee’s professional and romantic lives.
Gordon-Levitt gives the same quality performance he always does; he even looks like he’s having fun doing some of the bicycle stunts. But it’s a bit of a head scratcher that he took the role. If it weren’t for the cast, this would have been a direct-to-DVD, bargain bin dweller.
Shannon, as the cop trying to get Wilee’s package, masters the art of overacting in 90-short minutes. Playing the unhinged Bobby Monday, Shannon is more maniacal than actually menacing or dangerous. Involved because of a debt he is trying to settle with an underground Chinese gambling ring, Monday comes across as a bumbling cop who seems barely capable of catching the bad guys, let alone collaring an innocent bike messenger.
Told in almost real time, "Premium Rush" allows for a slow build towards the big reveals by using a non-linear storytelling structure. Rewinding the clock through flashbacks to give insight as to what the characters are dealing with is a smart move by the writers. By not revealing everything upfront, the film is given a bit of mystery to entice the audience.
Most of the film’s problems come from director and co-writer Davie Koepp, who has crafted a Ritalin-fueled thriller for the high school set. The film has a stylized feel that works in the beginning but, due to overuse, becomes tiresome. The use of a GPS-esque map to show Wilee’s routes looks cheap (and evokes memories of TV’s "Cash Cab.") The director uses a similar visual flair every time Wilee is about to crash into oncoming traffic. Koepp shows the various routes the biker is contemplating with all of the routes, save for the one he eventually takes, ending with carnage of some kind.
Despite the tension of the intense bike chases, Koepp fails to create much suspense. Unable inject a rush of adrenaline into the major action sequences, he leaves little hope for the rest of the film. Things get even worse as the concluding minutes unfold in one of the most yawn-inducing climaxes in film history. When a bike messenger flash mob is ordered, it’s hard to know whether to laugh at the absurdity or merely shake your head at what is unfolding on screen.
It’s not just the visuals that are problematic, the script takes plenty of leaps in common sense. At one point, Wilee returns the envelope back where he picked it up. He’s already been riding around for half the film, wouldn’t it be easier to just quickly drop it off and forget anything happened? Questions like this expose giant holes in logic that pull the viewer from the experience of being involved in the story.
"Premium Rush" suffers by taking itself too seriously. At the end of the day you are watching a bike messenger chased around Manhattan by a deranged cop. With more of a sense of humor and an increased sense of danger this could have been a great guilty pleasure. But as it currently stands, there should be no "rush" to see this film.