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Premium Rush

A movie directed by David Koepp

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Now This is an Action Film

  • Aug 25, 2012
Star Rating:

Premium Rush is one hell of a ride – an action thriller, a chase spectacle, a mystery, and a tale of international intrigue all rolled into one gloriously adrenaline-hopped package. It was directed and co-written by David Koepp, who proves yet again that, no matter what genre he works in, his flair for outlandish material is his strong suit. To illustrate my point, consider Death Becomes Her, Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Stir of Echoes, Panic Room, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Secret Window, Ghost Town, and Angels & Demons, all films his name is attached to; there was nothing subtle about any of them, and they each achieved their own brand of success. Here, he plunges headfirst into pure slam-bang, high-octane fun, and never once does he allow anything pesky like plausibility get in the way.
The central character is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a New York City bicycle delivery man whose life is nothing if not one huge adrenaline rush. He weaves in and out of traffic with reckless abandon, red lights and crowded sidewalks meaning nothing to him apart from challenges to be faced. He has long since removed the brake on his bike, not only preferring the speed but also believing that that piece of equipment does more harm than good. He possesses an inhuman ability to visualize three possible maneuvers and select one of them only a split second before he has to make it; inevitably, the first two end with him crashing into an oncoming car. These choices are represented, as they are at many points in the film, by an animated line like the ones you’d find on a GPS map.

The plot is constructed around a MacGuffin, specifically an envelope housing a ticket with a smiley face drawn on it. Wilee receives the envelope from a woman named Nima (Jamie Chung), who doesn’t delve into specifics and only instructs that it be delivered to Chinatown within thirty minutes. She insists that this is very important. Before Wilee can make his delivery, he’s stopped by a corrupt cop named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a compulsive gambler who needs the envelope in order to erase a debt with a Chinese loan shark. Wilee, knowing Monday isn’t being straightforward, refuses to comply and speeds away. So begins a frenetic chase up and down the streets of Manhattan. It isn’t long before Wilee’s dangerous pedaling attracts the attention of a bike cop, who soon turns his pursuit into a personal vendetta.
The film continuously goes back in time and shows earlier events from different perspectives. Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. We learn that Wilee is trying to win back his ex-girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), who’s also a bicycle messenger. We learn that Vanessa was once Nima’s roommate; for personal reasons she couldn’t reveal, she had to ask Vanessa to leave. We learn of Wilee’s rival, a messenger named Manny (Wolé Parks), who eventually gets his hands on the envelope without realizing its importance and turns getting it back into a competition. Finally, we learn Nima’s back story and the significance of the ticket in the envelope. Naturally, my lips are sealed. It’s all rather convoluted, but it’s also exciting and incredibly engrossing.

Some will see the Monday character only as a caricature, given his manic personality and highly exaggerated New York accent. True enough, he is a caricature. But no one could have played him better than Michael Shannon, who has made a name for himself tackling memorable, highly intense roles. As Monday, he successfully walks the fine line between a menacing figure and comedy relief. It wouldn’t have been right to make him too frightening, for the story isn’t meant to be taken completely seriously. At the same time, making him too goofy would have been just as fatal. That’s because the concept, while certainly heightened, is emotionally anchored to reality. Indeed, there is a delicate balance at work throughout the entire film; that the scales are never tipped to one side is nothing short of miraculous.
Going into Premium Rush with what I had already heard about it, I expected to be entertained. I did not, however, expect to be kept on the edge of my seat in suspense, laughing and gasping at the story and characters, and deeply admiring the clever camerawork, the amazing stunts, the creative visual effects, and the taut pacing. I was completely blindsided. What a white-knuckle experience this is. A week ago, I had to endure a wretched action comedy called The Expendables 2, a testosterone-fueled fantasy that was devoid of intelligence, excitement, and a proper sense of fun. I hope the makers of that film see Premium Rush and study it carefully. Likewise, I hope audiences give it its due attention. Only then will they understand how the action genre is supposed to work.


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September 16, 2012
Yeah, enjoyed this one a lot. Michael Shannon is the best "crazy" actor working today; I just hope he resists the urge to become the next Nicolas Cage. Have you seen him in Boardwalk Empire? So excellent.
September 16, 2012
I don't watch Boardwalk Empire. A show that's much more up my alley is The Newsroom.
September 17, 2012
Fair enough. I haven't seen The Newsroom yet, but I kind of want to. Kind of.
More Premium Rush reviews
review by . August 26, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Pedal to The Metal
Those of us who’ve lived in the urban jungles of America have familiar with the folks who are called Bike messengers. Those who of us who drive during rush hour or during the regular office days see them as a hazard to the flow of safe traffic, and while I have to admit that there are indeed some messengers who truly push the limits and do not respect the law, I understand the need for such men. They say that if you don’t want any service that can prove dangerous, then make sure there …
review by . March 25, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
Premium Rush won my heart so thoroughly with its opening monologue alone that it would have taken a galactic screwup for me to be completely put off it. Reviewers have made a lot over one small line in said monologue: "I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can't stop. Don't want to, either." Its been called smarmy and ridiculous, but I doubt much of the bicycle messenger community shares that opinion. I worked that dangerous and punishing job myself on the Chicago circuit for several years, and …
review by . September 16, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****    One of the first images we see in David Koepp's "Premium Rush" is of its main character Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as his body is flying mid-air in slow motion towards the ground, where it appears that he's had quite the fall. Fast forward a little earlier in the day, and we're back at the beginning of a journey of which we've apparently seen the upper end of, well, the end. It begins with Wilee (like the coyote) delivering an ominous envelope (that he assumes …
review by . August 27, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
   "I live my life how I ride, no gears, no brakes," This is just one of the lines that come out of our protagonist's mouths.  But how could you possibly be rooting for any bike rider after living in the city for as long as anyone has. Bikers are  the bane of both city drivers and walkers, full of hipsters, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights whenever they feel.  Bikers are the worst.  I'm sure you my biker reader are a perfectly …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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