The new film “Premium Rush” is an all-action hoot with a pinch of old Hollywood storytelling thrown in. Director David Koepp’s knack for finding decent plots and telling them with laudable pace helps the movie to be more than just the next cinematic stepping-stone in the ascent of the movie’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
In some ways Koepp is more interesting than Gordon-Levitt. The former made “Stir of Echoes” in 1999 and “Ghost Town” in 2008, and those are first-rate Hollywood films. His 2004 “Secret Window” helped Johnny Depp solidify his star status.
Gordon-Levitt will be recognized by American movie-goers and television-watchers alike. After appearing for years in the situation comedy series Third Rock From the Sun, he managed to work his way into adult movie parts. His recent appearances in the great “Inception” and in this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises” have marked him for name-above-titles stardom.
In “Premium Rush” he plays Wiley, an accomplished New York City bicycle messenger who believes in going full-out all the time. Koepp uses a couple of devices to show us what Wiley’s work is like—the film pauses for looks at routes plotted the way Mapquest or Google Maps does them and for what are in real time almost simultaneous examinations of alternate routes through heavy traffic.
.The movie also does some flashing back to tell the four stories which merge in the film. One is about a small Chinese boy waiting on the waterfront for some thug to allow him illegal admission into the U.S. One is about the boy’s mother, Nima, a secretary at a local college who shares an apartment with Vanessa, Wiley’s girlfriend and another bike messenger.
Nima must send her savings of several years to a criminal who will then signal that her son is to be allowed into the country. So the secretary makes a deposit with an underground bank and sends the receipt for the money to the people-smugglers via bike messenger—via Wiley.
She doesn’t take it herself because she is being followed by a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) who is trying to steal the receipt at the behest of Chinese gamblers. Soon the cop learns that Wiley has the slip of paper. And that officer is not the only NYC cop trying to run down the traffic-dodging biker.
Much of the movie—really, most of the movie is taken up with wild bike riding action, shot at street level. This is exciting stuff. Early on I thought it might be too exciting. But then I got used to the risks. And Koepp, recognizing that the novelty of the veering and pedaling was going to be lost, added additional tricks to keep the action interesting.
So when we’ve gotten used to Wiley being chased by a cop car and a bicycle cop, suddenly we’re in a race between Security Messenger’s two best bike riders. Or Wiley is escaping a series of arrest attempts in police facilities. The ingenuity of the escape from the seized property garage made this fair-sized sequence late in the story into one of the film’s real attractions.
The movie also takes us to interesting places we’ve not seen before, including a garden behind a nail salon where Nima finds the underground banker and his enforcer.
“Premium Rush” also has its weakness. Though Koepp’s script doesn’t require the gesture, he arranges for a sort of “Hey, Rube!” call to all bike messengers which produces a silly stall at the story’s climax.
But that doesn’t last long. And otherwise “Premium Rush” is a lot of fun, a real action, action, action movie that will keep moviegoers in touch with Gordon-Levitt, one of Hollywood’s rising stars and with David Koepp, one of its under-appreciated directors.