Premium Rush

You might think that the summer movie season is over, and that a 90-minute movie about a bike messenger racing down the length of Broadway isn’t worth your time.

But you’d be wrong.

Premium Rush has the bad fortune of hitting theaters at the end of August (and in the still-smoldering debris that big-and-loud Expendables 2 left behind), but don’t give up on it just yet. It’s one of the more rock-solid, edge-of-your-seat thrill rides this summer– surprisingly fresh, intelligent, and flat-out good.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Wilee (as in Wile E. Coyote), the best of the 1,500 bike messengers that zip through the streets of New York like speed skaters on a fresh sheet of ice. His last job of the day is a big one, a premium rush. He’s got to pick up an envelope at 116th Street and deliver it to Chinatown –that’s about 2/3 the length of Manhattan– in an hour-and-a-half.

We don’t know why (it’s not for Wilee to know), and we don’t know what’s in the envelope (doesn’t matter to him)… all we know is that he needs to get it there.

When a menacing guy (Michael Shannon) tries to get it from him, even going so far as to chase Wilee down Broadway in his sports car, things get real serious real quick.

The guy, it turns out, has anger management issues (to put it mildly), a big-time gambling problem (really big), and another secret, which I won’t spoil here. But he’s not the only thorn in Wilee’s side. Wilee’s girlfriend’s not talking to him, a rival messenger’s got it out for him, and a bicycle cop is on his tail. Needless to say, life gets a lot worse for Wilee before it gets better.

Director David Koepp (Ghost Town) takes what could have been a throwaway movie about a bike messenger (see Kevin Bacon’s 1986 bomb Quicksilver) and turns it into a thrill-ride of the highest order. The frenetic (but highly watchable) style mixes the race-against-the-clock feel of Speed with the impossible mission of Die Hard With a Vengeance, and it still feels fresh and highly original. All of the questions get answered, but never in the way you’re expecting.

Koepp also co-wrote the screenplay (with buddy John Kamps), fashioning a story that couldn’t be simpler (guy rides bike, evades bad guys) but is chock-full of twists, turns, and surprises. And the non-linear timeline (it bounces back and forth throughout) heightens the intrigue even more.

Gordon-Levitt, who’s quietly become one of the best in the game today, anchors Premium Rush with fierce determination (and -phew!- stamina), helping elevate it out of the end-of-summer doldrums to become a film very worthy of your attention.

Don’t say goodbye to summer just yet. Premium Rush is a hell of a ride.

4.5/5 stars