This race-against-time thriller finds Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, channeling Wile E. Coyote), a bicycle messenger entrusted with a mysterious ‘premium rush’ envelope from Columbia University in uptown Manhattan that he must deliver downtown to Chinatown. He’s having problems with his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramiriz), another bike courier who’s being pursued by his rival Manny (Wole Parks). And his light-weight cycle is a “fixie,” meaning it has only one gear and no stopping power. But that’s nothing compared to menacing Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a sneering New York detective with a gambling problem, who really wants that envelope.
Co-written by John Kamps and director David Koepp (“Ghost Town”), it gets points for graphic originality and terrific action visuals. Most of the chase sequences – 96%, according to Koepp – are real, meaning without resorting to computer-generated imagery. And among the peddling daredevils is Scottish street cyclist Danny MacAskill, whose YouTube videos attract millions of views.
“With CG, you can always feel the fingers on the keyboard, no matter how good it gets,” Koepp told the New York Times. “With stunts, you know it had to hurt.”
Indeed, during a nine-day stretch when his team roamed the Big Apple, filming in the streets, at least one member of the production cast/crew required emergency medical treatment each day, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who needed 31 stitches after careening into the window of a taxi.
Yet Koepp’s pace loses momentum when he veers into expositional flashbacks to reveal the contents of that envelope and why it has value to so many people. In addition, given the 90 minute deadline, there’s no logical explanation why the courier doesn’t just take the subway for this particular errand. Koepp is also tripped up by Jamie Chung’s bordering-on-racist portrayal of Nima, a desperate Chinese exchange student who barely speaks English and just happens to have a history with Vanessa. Too many unrealistic coincidences decrease believability.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Premium Rush” delivers a silly, speeding 6, filled with impressive chase scenes and stunt work on a bike without brakes.