Director: David Koepp
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon
In a year which included The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, and Lincoln, Premium Rush would seem like the least of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s 2012 films. Commercially, it certainly was. Secretly, however, it may very well have been his best. Sure, it lacks the gravitas of Lincoln, the mind bending cleverness of Looper, or the pop cultural importance of The Dark Knight Rises, but it more than makes up for all that in no frills action. How good is it? It reminded me a fair bit of Run, Lola, Run. If that means nothing to you, then I suggest that you stop reading right now, get copies of Lola and Rush, and settle in for a thrilling double feature.
Premium Rush begins near the end, with its hero, a bike courier named Wilee (Gordon-Levitt), sailing through the air after having been hit by a car. It then doubles back several hours to trace how and why he ended up in that position (and doubles back several more times in order to trace the multiple plot threads which will dovetail in the finale). The trouble begins when Wilee goes to a college campus to pickup an order from Nima (Jamie Chung), the roommate of his ex-girlfriend (and fellow bike messenger), Vanessa (Dania Ramirez). As he’s leaving the campus he’s approached by Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who demands that Wilee hand over the envelope. Instead Wilee takes off on his bike and Monday gives chase, inspiring daredevil antics in the former and insane rage in the latter.
After discovering that Monday isn’t just a random psycho but also an NYPD detective, Wilee decides that nothing is worth this much hassle and returns the envelope to the college. Unfortunately, Nima desperately needs the package delivered by 7 and when she explains why, Wilee decides that he has to help her. More unfortunately still, the returned package has now been picked up by Wilee’s rival, Manny (Wole Parks), and Monday has altered the delivery address so that the package comes right to him rather than its intended recipient. With some help from Vanessa, Wilee sets out to get the package back from Manny, evade capture from Monday, and make the delivery before it’s too late.
Gordon-Levitt has long since proved his ability to carry quirky indie fare, and his output in 2012 (this film included) goes a long way to showing that he has what it takes to carry mainstream action fare as well. He’s a charismatic actor and equips himself well here, even though the character is a bit thin. Shannon, meanwhile, gets to go all out as the villain and takes Monday to cartoonish heights that, nevertheless, work within the context of this hyper stylized story. Monday is a total loose cannon, the kind of character who is capable of anything, and Shannon finds the right balance between menace and ridiculousness. His is a perfect counterbalance to Gordon-Levitt’s performance, and taken together they create an insane, but terrifically entertaining, harmony.
There isn’t much in the way of depth to Premium Rush - though it does make a half-hearted play for it by giving Wilee a backstory involving law school and the realization that he’s not a suit and tie kind of guy – but there doesn’t really need to be, either. It’s a near-perfectly crafted action film that unfolds at breakneck pace, features some really great stunt work and CGI, and is filmed in a vibrant style that enhances its formulaic elements. Though it’s a thematically shallow film, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a badly written one. The screenplay by John Kamps and director David Koepp is tightly-plotted, moving back and forth in time with ease as it sets up the story’s various threads, and then tying them all together in the end in a way that’s actually rather elegant. Technically speaking, Premium Rush is a much better film than it needs to be, one that isn’t content to settle for cheap thrills and instead aims to be a first-rate action movie. It hits the target dead on.