"You have a real knack for making things worse."
Before I get into this review, I have to preface it by saying that this is not a movie that everyone will enjoy. I can see the average movie-goer walking out of the theater thinking that it was a massive disappointment. However, there is a gem of a movie buried under a premise that has no business working whatsoever, and for those that enjoy B-movies and get on the same wavelength as the filmmakers, you're in for a hell of a ride.
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bike messenger in New York City. He helps to establish the world of the film with an opening voice-over that lets us know that bike messengers are part of an unspoken fraternity that takes care of their own, and are among the most able-bodied workers in the entire city. At the end of a long day, Wilee is requested by an acquaintance (Jamie Chung) to pick up a package from her and deliver it to an address in Chinatown.
He immediately attracts the attention of a man calling himself Forrest J. Ackerman (Michael Shannon) who claims to need the letter back from Wilee. When Wilee refuses, Ackerman gives chase, and the film turns into a race across New York City that involves cops, crooks, other bike messengers, the Chinese mafia, and virtually everyone in between.
The movie plays fast and loose with the real-time structure, although the events unfold more or less in real time. There is a ticking-clock that shows up from time to time to let you know when the events you're watching took place, as there are constant flashbacks and scenes told from multiple vantage points, and while it is a bit confusing at first, the pieces begin to fall into place a little more than halfway through.
The handful of times that the action does slow down or stop, are fraught with tension and strategically placed to give the audience a breather. Other than that, it's pretty much non-stop, wall to wall action and suspense. What at first seem like superfluous details like Wilee's failed relationship with one of his co-workers Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) or his rivalry with another (Wole Parks), all come into play throughout the course of the story, and what at first seem like unnecessary details, come to reveal a fully realized world.
David Koepp is a writer who, when he's on his game, understands structure and timely reveals better than almost anyone out there. As a director, he's hit and miss at best, but again, when he's on, he's a force to be reckoned with. I would place this film right alongside his other B-movie masterpiece, 1999's Stir of Echoes, as a fantastic exercise in genre filmmaking. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to his screenplay for Brian DePalma's Snake Eyes as another film smart enough to know it's playing into the very tropes it seems to be parodying.
The performances here are as good as can be expected for the kind of film this is. JGL is far and away one of the most affable actors working today, and he coasts here on his endless charm and the fact that you just can't help but root for the guy, no matter what. Shannon is an absolute blast, and handily walks away with the entire film. I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to compare his performance here to another of his contemporaries in a similarly so-bad-it's-good film from last year, and that would be William Fitchner in Drive Angry. Both actors are savvy enough to know how pulpy the material is, and thankfully manage to have a ton of fun playing these over-the-top villains.
What I'm getting at, again, is that this is the sort of movie you have to know is going to be ridiculous and fun and be willing to just go with it. The film borrows liberally from everything like Run Lola Run, Two Lane Blacktop, & Looney Tunes, and the more you give yourself over to the fun everyone on screen is having, the more you'll find yourself getting caught up in it as well.
I'm sad that this film is seriously under performing at the box office (I was the only person in the theater this afternoon), but it's no surprise. This film would have been a better match for a February or September release, and just got buried in the end-of-summer doldrums. If you're looking for a fun, breezy, ninety minute B-movie thrill-ride though, you can't get much better than Premium Rush.
GO Rating: 4/5
[Photos via Box Office Mojo]