‘Premium Rush’ has Joseph Gordon-Levitt fighting NYC traffic to be on time

Hollywood Soapbox logoJoseph Gordon-Levitt has catapulted himself into Hollywood stardom in recent years. Some may remember him from his days on 3rd Rock From the Sun, playing a typical teenager growing up in an outer-space household. In recent years, he’s expanded his repertoire to include thoughtful roles in thrilling movies. Premium Rush, released in 2012, is a simpler, easier effort, one that won’t make its way to the top of Gordon-Levitt’s growing resume, but nevertheless one that packs an adrenaline punch.

Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) is a bike courier navigating the congested arteries of Manhattan. His office is a bicycle, and his best friend seems to the chain he uses to secure the bike to a fence. This is a character defined by his job. Couriers need to be fast; Wilee is fast. Couriers need to be efficient; Wilee is efficient. Couriers need to keep out of the way and deliver the package; Wilee pulls this off almost 100 percent of the time. Premium Rush details the one instance when the bicyclist is unable to make good on his time-interval promise.

Enter Bobby Monday, a crooked cop who needs what’s in Wilee’s current parcel. It takes a long time for the courier to pick up on Bobby’s seriousness. This isn’t some love letter that the police officer has regrets about sending. It’s far more damning if this package is properly delivered. Jamie Chung and Dania Ramirez play supporting roles, although much of the film is a showdown between Bobby and Wilee.

The action scenes staged by writer-director David Koepp are thrilling and intense. Who would have guessed that bicycle riding through the streets of New York City could be so exhilarating. Watching Wilee whip around cars and stay out of harm’s way can be as exciting as any other summer blockbuster. Luckily, the film runs only 90 minutes because the novelty of the bicycle scenes begins wear off near the 75-minute mark. Premium Rush never stops to take a breath, and although that can be a recipe for success, it also means there’s no time to stop and consider the characters involved in this melee.

Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job in the central role. His character is so much about action and bikes that it’s difficult to figure out who he is personally. Ramirez’s girlfriend character offers some subtext, but the supporting role seems thrown in as a plot convenience.

Shannon is the true star here. As usual, he turns in an original performance, highlighted by grimacing facial movements, solid line deliveries and a panicked paranoia that perfectly fits Bobby Monday. It’s not a career highlight (Shannon has too many better roles), but it’s a nice one to add to the career.

Koepp, working off a script he wrote with John Kamps, has cut his teeth as a Hollywood writer and director for some years. Premium Rush is his valentine to the over-the-top spectacle of action films. He has delivered a cutthroat film edited down to its barest of bones, and, in the end, that seems to be enough to work. There are no robots, aliens, spaceships, typical action heroes or cheesy lines; this one throbs with a new kind of stylized action that is often missing from Hollywood. Bravo.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Premium Rush

  • 2012

  • Directed by David Koepp

  • Written by Koepp and John Kamps

  • Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Jamie Chung and Dania Ramirez

  • Running time: 90 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action sequences and language

  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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