Director: David Koepp
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Sean Kennedy, Jamie Chung
After scoring major roles from The Dark Knight Rises to Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is enjoying a bumper year. By comparison, his leading-man performance in this fast-paced New York thriller is a lightweight affair, full of zing and energy but, ultimately, a little too cartoonish.
Premium Rush unfolds inside a 90-minute, real-time frame, although the plot loops back and forward at various points to fill in character motives and back stories. Gordon-Levitt plays a New York City bicycle messenger named Wilee, a clumsy homage to the restless coyote in the Road Runner cartoons. Despite being a law graduate, he has rejected a conventional career to remain a free spirit - which, in his case, means carrying packages around Manhattan all day, breathing petrol fumes and risking serious injury for a minimum wage. Pathological idiocy dressed up as the American dream.
This is about the level of logic and realism we quickly come to expect from Premium Rush. The plot revolves around Wilee peddling at great speed from Manhattan's uptown university district to Chinatown to deliver an urgent payment for an illegal human-trafficking operation. Along the way, he gets into a deadly cat-and-mouse chase with Michael Shannon's crooked cop, who needs the money to pay off his heavy gambling debts. Wilee also tries to sweet-talk his semi-estranged girlfriend (Ramirez) into reconciliation, and ends up in a dangerous high-speed race through Central Park with his boastful bike-messenger rival (Kennedy).
David Koepp is a hugely successful screenwriter whose CV includes Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible and Spider-Man. He also co-wrote Brian De Palma's 1998 thriller, Snake Eyes, which had a similar kind of real-time, adrenalin-pumped, plot-looping energy as Premium Rush.
Koepp's slender handful of credits is more uneven, but he does a decent job here. Though not a great visual stylist, his use of smartphone apps and interactive maps to zoom the characters around Manhattan is impressive; likewise Wilee's split-second calculations of the quickest, safest route to zip through traffic.
But Koepp's film is also let down by clunky dialogue and cliched characters. Broad caricatures abound, especially Shannon's comically overblown, bad-apple detective, who appears to be channelling the young Christopher Walken. A chase movie with bikes rather than cars, a cartoon with humans instead of animated animals, this slick, street-level thriller is full of sensory delights but low on common sense. Ironically, for all its dynamic two-wheeled action, Premium Rush ultimately feels a little pedestrian.