If ever you were uncertain about the tone and intent of Premium Rush, the iconic sounds of a keyboard of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ playing over the introduction should give you a pretty clear idea: we’re here to have fun and be silly.
Just after the music plays, we see a fit and sweaty Joseph Gordon-Levitt fly through the area, falling gracefully, if not painfully, on his back in the middle of a busy Manhattan street (as if there were any other kind).
The much beloved JGL, getting his own starring vehicle between The Dark Knight Rises and the thriller Looper, is a NYC courier named Wilee (like the coyote) with a bit of a death wish, and thus the aforementioned vehicle in this case, is a bike. No brakes and no gears is part of his motto as he races around the city with reckless abandonment but meticulous care, as these scenes of cycling, of which there are many, all exhilarating in their simplicity.
Any urbanites watching the film need not to be informed of the dangers of riding a bike throughout a city, and none of the obstacles—cab drivers, trucks, pedestrians, and random car doors opening-exaggerate in the slightest the peril of riding through a city. As a seasoned rider, Wilee has the ability to foresee accidents, and the few Matrix-style moments where his world slows as he imagines the possibilities of different routes are pretty cool, and often pretty crazy.
So, along with the red-shirted and fast-talking Wilee, Manhattan itself becomes an exciting character, and one of the few foes young Wilee faces across one very intense evening. When he is given an important and time-sensitive envelope to deliver across town, he attracts some unwanted attention.
Enter the rather hysterical Michael Shannon, clearly enjoying himself (and rightly so – see Take Shelter) as an inept, crooked cop in pursuit of said envelope, mugging and complaining along the way, reminiscent of a Christopher McDonald’s crazed Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore. A cartoonish buffoon who is easily imagined crying in a puddle of mud, his character, the wonderfully named Bobby Monday, offers some of the best laughs in a film that is actually trying to make you laugh.
Entangled in Wilee’s mess is his maybe girlfriend Vanessa and her suitor Manny—both fellow bike messengers, and both with good looks and great bodies. Aasif Mandvi of The Daily Show fame brings his perfect comedic timing as the courier’s boss, and stunt actor Christopher Place is phenomenal as a bike cop who can’t help but always run into Wilee, but who can never quite catch him.
It is genuine silly fun, with plenty of preposterous exercises, some very intense bike riding, and more than a few tumbles. It is a strange blend of the ridiculous and the realistic, a combination of an action film with actual stunts, and a cat-and-mouse tale with lots of chuckles. Unfortunately, the ending doesn’t quite live up to the chases that make up the film, with a convoluted story and a lackluster payoff.
The ride is fast and often out of control, with definitely a few bumps and detours along the way, but there is definitely nothing like it out there, and you wouldn’t want it any other way.