Director: David Koepp
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Date: September 14th
In 1998 German filmmaker Tom Tykwer burst onto the scene with the enterprising Run Lola Run. With its fragmented structure and creative use of multiple perspectives, Tykwer’s complex narrative brought new verve and artistry to a tired formula. The film became a worldwide hit and even inspired an episode of The Simpsons. David Koepp’s Premium Rush shares some surface similarities with Tykwer’s film—a blistering tempo, a ticking clock, the use of split-perspectives—and while it lacks the former’s inventiveness, it delivers in spills and thrills.
Hollywood loves a snappy premise, and plots don’t come much simpler than this. Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a Manhattan bicycle courier, is hired to ferry an envelope from an elite city college to Chinatown in the middle of rush hour traffic (hence the title). The nefarious Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) wants to intercept the envelope and will stop at nothing to get it. Over the course of ninety-odd minutes, Wilee leads an increasingly agitated Monday on a chase around the city, while Koepp—presumably aware of the thinness of his central conceit—broadens the scenario to include a comic-relief bike cop (Christopher Place), a girlfriend (Dania Ramirez), love-rival (Wolé Parks) and a Chinese student (Jamie Chung).
Despite the presence of Gordon-Levitt and Shannon (Boardwalk Empire), Koepp’s film is an unabashed B-movie. A BMX Bandits for the fixed-gear generation. Tapping into a vibrant subculture, the film embraces its imagery (fast bikes, dyed hair, tattoos) but has little if anything to say about it. As fearless as he is reckless, Wilee rides like he has a “deathwish” which conveniently services the plot but affords Gordon-Levitt’s character about as much depth as your average cartoon character. Shannon’s Monday is at least given the benefit of a backstory and an actual motivation but he comes across as a beleaguered Disney villain routinely foiled by a pesky kid.
To his credit Koepp handles the action well, but his transitions into backstory are a little clumsy. Of course, the real selling point here are the many stunts but even these aren’t particularly varied. Gordon-Levitt swerves past cars and on and off pavements but after a while it all becomes a bit pedestrian. Aside from a neat sequence in which Wilee outfoxes the cops with some tricks cogged off a Danny MacAskill YouTube video, there is little spark or ingenuity to Koepp’s set-pieces. Even the potentially brilliant cavalry scene in the film’s closing moments fails to ignite and the whole thing feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Still, as escapist popcorn goes, Premium Rush is moderately entertaining. Bring a helmet but leave your brain at the door.