Dodging speeding cars, crazed cabbies and eight million cranky pedestrians is all in a day's work for Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the best of New York's agile and aggressive bicycle messengers. It takes a special breed to ride the fixie -- super lightweight, single-gear bikes with no brakes and riders who are equal part skilled cyclists and nutcases who risk becoming a smear on the pavement every time they head into traffic. But a guy who's used to putting his life on the line is about to get more than even he is used to when his last envelope of the day - a routine "premium rush" run - turns into a life or death chase through the streets of Manhattan.
The streets of New York City are constantly abuzz with bicycle messengers, weaving in and out of traffic, avoiding pedestrian casualties, all to deliver their packages on time. For a mere eighty dollars on a good day, Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) rides his fixie, a super lightweight bike without any gears of brakes. The skill involved is great, as is the rider's nerve. Wilee is a daredevil on the bike, and his last delivery for the day that will take him all the way to Chinatown is a premium rush. It also happens to contain an item worth a great deal of money, and gambling addict Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) wants to get his hands on it by any means possible.
Premium Rush, as told in nearly real time between the hours of 5:00pm and 7:00pm with time jumps throughout, is definitely a product of a subculture. For those who live the life of a bike messenger in a big city the action will undoubtedly feel authentic. The camera makes sure to catch the angles and point of view's of the characters with every move of the bike and avoidance from death on the streets. The slowing down of the film, in order to show the different routes available and the impending hazard's they provide a rider is a tad silly to watch, albeit an obvious occurrence for the bike messenger who is maneuvering busy streets. The inclusion of the Sony Ericson phones as the bicyclists third arms is product placement heaven. To an outsider the film comes across as more of a trickery of stunts on a bicycle than a true action film. The movements are swift, the pacing quick, but the adrenaline is mild at its best. The plot line of Wilee being chased by Detective Monday for his package is what keeps the film going, even as it embarks on even more ridiculous lines of actions in attempt to add depth. Wilee and his girlfriend are having problems, the woman who ordered the package to be delivered is given a story line ripe with sentiment, but only when a child's face appears out of the rain. The tears do not flow but the notion that you should feel something is suffocating. Adding to the convolution is Wilee's antagonistic relationship with fellow messenger, and a man who wants to steal his girlfriend, Manny (Wole Parks). Manny is made out to be a hulk of a man, biceps and brawn galore, but with the brains of a dumb jock. His stupidity only made more clear during a bike race where his inability to listen or reason causes great harm.
The story itself behind Premium Rush is ridiculous at best, and full of poorly executed plot lines that all lead to one place--but keeping only one plot line would have fared better for the entire film as a whole. The saving grace in Premium Rush is Michael Shannon's performance as Detective Monday. The humor he brings to the role, albeit unintentionally perhaps, makes him an enigmatic character embroiled in a tough and deadly exterior. Shannon is an imposing actor, and he can deliver a line with such great stoicalness and with a serious face that in a film such as Premium Rush it becomes hilarious. Premium Rush is only entertaining for the interplay between Shannon's Detective Monday and the rest of the cast, or even him, alone, doing what he does. The rest of the film may as well be discarded celluloid, in a feeble attempt to make an action hero out of a bicycle rider that never amounts to anything of worth.
When considering the action in Premium Rush "exertion" seems more appropriate than action. There is action, of sorts, as the bicyclers ride all around town, dodging cars, pedestrians, and nature while trying to not get killed. It may not be a wholly adrenaline pumping ride to watch, but the stamina involved in the stunt work and the simple act of riding a bicycle at high speeds around New York City is something remarkable. Nearly the entire film takes place on the move, with Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) cycling at high speeds to try and deliver his package, while dodging by car Detective Bobby Monday or a fellow bicycling police officer (Christopher Place). The other featured messengers, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and Manny (Wole Parks), get in their share of riding as well as stunt work when they go crashing to the ground. Premium Rush is a film on the constant move, it just does not manage to exert the pulse of adrenaline the characters are experiencing onto the audience.
Premium Rush is touted as an action thriller, when it could easily be considered one of the funniest movies to be released in the year 2012. Failed seriousness is not at play here, so using the word campy or kitschy would be incorrect. It is instead hilarious thanks to the interactions between characters, man on bike vs. man in car, and the performance of Michael Shannon as Detective Bobby Monday. Shannon goes for the overblown crazed detective, desperate to pay off his gambling debts, but with comedic panache that one does not expect from his overbearing and frightening character. He chimes in with lines such as "I'm chasing a bicycle" and a simple "hmmmm" that are recited with such dead pan seriousness, and in Shannon's non-verbose vernacular, that giggles surely follow. Each time he is thwarted by Wilee on the bike his pure sense of exasperation and annoyance draws laughter as well. He is in fact chasing a man on a bike, and the ridiculous notion of the entire scenario is not lost on his character or the audience. Just do not expect to see Detective Monday laugh, he is serious and his motive strong enough to incite violent actions and murder.
There are also laughs to be found in other parts of Premium Rush. Wilee and his ex-girlfriend talk over bluetooth while riding, discussing their relationship in an inopportune moment more than once. The "death scenarios" as one may call them, when Wilee's point of view shows his options on how to maneuver through the streets only to see on more than one occasion a truck running him over if he goes left, or right are a great deal of fun. It is hard to make bike riding a serious action on screen, and the influx of these animated scenarios does not help the viewer take everything serious. The film is better for it, and the laughter they provoke a welcome reprieve from an otherwise stale story. Then there are the moments when Wilee proclaims his love for the ride, the bike, and the ability to ride all day long. To someone a part of this subculture it may sound poetic, to the rest of the world it is plain foolish. The amount of amorous affection in Levitt's Wilee's voice gains the laughs. Premium Rush is a perfect example of a movie meant to be something that ends up the complete opposite. You will not find any real thrills or tense action, but you will find plenty of great laughs.
August 24, 2012