A run for the money
It is said, “Time waits for no man,” but time is no obstacle for Manhattan’s most daring cycler in “Premium Rush.” He’s Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an outlaw bicycle messenger who long ago dismissed the “rules of the road” in favor of his own.
A law school grad, Wilee trades the prospect of becoming an office buzzard for the freewheeling existence of his Wile E. Coyote namesake. He chases down one package after another, a low-paid messenger, circumventing the Manhattan jungle atop his “fixie” bike, equipped with only a single gear secured to the rear wheel.
“Brakes will get you killed,” he tells us; ergo, Wilee has none. Stoplights are for dilettantes, a point he makes when dodging speeding cabs or approaching a busy intersection. Stop-and-go action depicts Wilee calculating various options to zigzag through traffic, or in and around pedestrians without being killed or injuring others. The film uses this device, along with zoom-outs, that show Google maps of Manhattan’s streets, so we may better become acquainted with Wilee’s challenges.
Aside from delivering his packages, Wilee is fixated on pretty co-worker Vanessa, a sassy girl of true grit portrayed by Dania Ramirez. Proclaiming she’s ready to try a safer occupation, Vanessa wonders whether Wilee has a death wish, or is simply an adrenaline junkie. Either way, she returns his love, but doubts they have a future together.
When you absolutely must get a package to its destination within 90 minutes, Wilee’s your man. He, like every other protagonist worth rooting for, follows his own code of ethics and finds it sorely tested by a “premium rush” package that involves a young woman, a human smuggling operation, and a money-laundering mobster. Add to the mix a rogue cop – up to his eyeballs in debt to Chinese loan sharks, and you’ve got a chase movie that juxtaposes its human interest stories against old-fashioned suspense.
That suspense frequently takes the form of bikes going where no sane person would dare: rolling over car rooftops and hoods, flying over fences, or precariously winding its way over any handy board or beam stretched high above the heads of Wilee’s pursuers. Chief among these is Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a cop who’s gotten himself into the sort of a fix it takes a miracle to put right, and Wilee’s package contains the miracle Monday needs.
Not only does Wilee love sticking it to “the man,” but when he learns that Vanessa has a vested interest in getting the package to its destination, nothing will deter him from carrying out his mission.
Enter the ticking clock, which is never far from our consciousness as the story swings back and forth through time, a clock revealing the “when” as pieces of the puzzle come together, or we view events seen from different perspectives. Director David Koepp pulls off a hat trick, juggling bikes and agendas like so many bowling pins, without batting an eye. Told economically, and minus undue fanfare, overstatement, or unnecessary special effects, it’s a pleasure to suspend disbelief again and again.
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