This is not a good movie. It’s important to establish that early on so that you can understand how an appreciation of its moving parts doesn’t fully remove one central thesis: Premium Rush is crap. It may, however, be somewhat fun crap, depending on your tolerance for scenery chewing, “look how current we are” cultural references and spandex.
Actually, spandex is a good place to start, as Premium Rush is basically a superhero movie, written and directed by David Koepp, who worked on Spider-Man. Our hero (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was once a mild-mannered law student who discovered he had a supernatural gift involving bicycles stripped of gearshifts and brakes. Thus, he dropped out of school and became The Bike Messenger: The man without gears! OK, he doesn’t call himself that, but he does change his name to Wilee, which is just as stupid.
Wilee loves the rush of being a bicycle courier in New York City in literally the exact same way Patrick Swayze’s character in Point Break loved surfing. His girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) is simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by this fact, as she wants to quit this job and become a boring office worker. Her roommate, Nima (Jamie Chung), requests Wilee from the messenger office to take an important envelope for her. The problem is, this is an envelope also coveted by a degenerate, murderous and corrupt police officer (Michael Shannon), who can only be defeated by street-level GPS.
Let’s just stop right there because you get the idea: cat and mouse chases through dangerous intersections with a lot on the line. It’s not sophisticated and at times it is horrendously executed, culminating in a climactic bike flash mob that apparently stops the villain by being irritating. The backstories given to each character are just goofy and never pay off, including Wilee’s onetime law aspirations, Vanessa’s relationship strife and fellow courier Manny (Wolé Parks) having mad hatred for his nemesis Wilee.
Again, Premium Rush sucks. But Gordon-Levitt is kind of a perfect hero, an exact match for Spider-Man and not a certain pointed bat-cowl he has flirted with. The ground-level action isn’t revolutionary, nor is the gimmicky “start and stop time” trick, but they work in a simplistic, “what the hell” way. And then there’s Shannon.
There is no need to apologize for rolling around in Shannon’s epically hammy, mustache-twirling performance. An entire spin-off featuring just his squeaky-voiced, maniacal and yet somehow totally lazy villain would be an absolute delight. This isn’t Gary Oldman or Al Pacino over-emoting with flecks of spittle flying everywhere; this is something new, something more calculated and controlled. Shannon damn near moved this movie into “actually good” territory.
Good job. Good effort. But no cigar, Mr. Shannon. Premium Rush is done in by its adherence to action routine and lazy writing, combined with a sense of trying way, way too hard to be “fresh,” as though flash mobs aren’t only seen in cell phone commercials now. Still, this is the time when studios take out their trash, dumping the crap between the summer season and awards season. So, at least Premium Rush is fun crap.
—This review first appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Neb.