Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an A-list actor with a Z-list attitude. He doesn’t look for publicity, doesn’t seem to like doing interviews and is focused on doing good work. The latest example is “Premium Rush,” in which he plays a hot-shot New York City bicycle messenger in a time-bending, heart-racing, aesthetically original thriller.
Gordon-Levitt is Wilee, the fastest bicycle messenger in the city. His bike is made of steel; he doesn’t use brakes and forget about gears. A Columbia Law School dropout, Wilee would rather make instant, break-neck (literally, he might break his neck) decisions about which path to take when approaching the intersection at 110th and Broadway then decide on which six-figure job he’s sure to get if he completes law school.
Adding levity to the high-speed excitement, we get to see Wilee’s navigational options play out. For instance, while approaching a red light he has three paths from which to choose. Director David Keopp shows us what each path will provide: Wilee getting crushed by a bus, Wilee wiping out over a woman pushing a baby in a carriage, etc.
Wilee is a bike messenger because he loves the thrill. He also loves Vanessa, played by Dania Ramirez, a fellow bike messenger — and at the moment, that’s all she is to him.
The Premium Rush plot wheels are set in motion when Wilee is assigned to pick up a package from his alma mater. Turns out the client is Vanessa’s soon-to-be former roommate, Nima, a Chinese citizen in the U.S. studying to get her law degree.
Shortly after picking up the envelope, Wilee is approached by Michael Shannon’s Bobby Monday, who identifies himself as campus security and asks Wilee for the envelope. What do you think Wilee does? I’ll give you a hint: he’s on a bicycle. Of course, he rides away.
Turns out Mr. Monday is a cop, but he’s not a nice cop. He needs that envelope but I’m not going to tell you why.
Instead, I’ll tell you that “Premium Rush” is simply thrilling. Gordon-Levitt alone is worth the price of admission. You need not be a cycling enthusiast to appreciate the palpable adrenaline rush to be had by enjoying the cycling riding executed here. These bike chase scenes are far more realistic and grittier than the clichéd car chases we’re used to seeing in just about every unoriginal action movie that hits the market. Really, though, to have Gordon-Levitt and the incomparable Michael Shannon going at it is almost as gratifying as the most well-choreographed chase scene.
Four out of five stars.