Joseph Gordon-Levitt's bike-messenger chase movie is a diverting summer trifle.
I believe the world can be divided into three distinct populations: bike messengers; people who have never shared a road with bike messengers; and people who have done so and, as a result, can't stand bike messengers. Given the size of this final cohort, it was an act of some bravery for the filmmakers behind Premium Rush to make their hero, yes, a bike messenger. The ugly reminders are all right up there on the screen: the mortal swerves amid traffic, the red lights run, the multi-car pileups initiated, the routine terrorization of motorists and pedestrians alike.
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Of course, unlike the bike messenger in question, none of these innocent bystanders is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so he's got that going for him. Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee—nicknamed, inevitably, "the coyote"—a twentysomething whose choice of profession, current unemployment figures notwithstanding, is a consequence of enthusiasm, not necessity. A graduate of Columbia Law School, Wilee has nonetheless eschewed the bar in favor of the bike—specifically, a stripped down, fixed-gear steel frame with no brakes. (He argues that they cause more accidents than they prevent; I can only hope that the attorneys at Columbia Pictures are well prepared for a future class-action suit.)
Co-written and directed by screenplay superstar David Koepp, Premium Rush is slight to the point of evanescence. Wiley is given an envelope to deliver that is More Than It Seems and winds up being chased around Manhattan by a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) who wants its contents. Thrown into the mix are a bike-messenger ex-girlfriend (Dania Ramirez), a bike-messenger competitor for her affections (Wole Parks), a bike-cop (Christopher Place), a Columbia student with a secret (Jamie Chung), and a couple of Chinese gangsters.
As cited in the film, the term "premium rush" is shorthand for an especially well-compensated delivery. But the primary purposes of the title seem to be to advertise Wilee's adrenal addiction to urban biking, to hope that we will share his zeal, and to invite intellectual-property lawsuits.
Judged against its modest ambitions, the movie is successful in a straightforward, middle-concept, Cellular kind of way. Like that early Chris Evans vehicle, Premium Rush doesn't aim terribly high but manages to hit its marks with reasonable accuracy. Gordon-Levitt is his typical likable self. Shannon plays a villain more pitiable than frightening, a compulsive gambler who sneers and whinges his way through the film in a nasal, vaguely Cagneyesque tenor. And there are many, many scenes of people riding bicycles with extreme prejudice. Arguably best of all, the movie completes its delivery in a swift 91 minutes. Throwing "premium" into the title may be overselling such a trifling entertainment. But for the cinematically discounted days of late summer, it's a perfectly diverting little ride.