THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
To the best of my knowledge, there haven't been too many movies about bike messengers. I remember the 1986 Kevin Bacon movie Quicksilver, and then nothing else. Unless there's one out there I'm not aware of, it's safe to say that Premium Rush is the best movie about a bike messenger ever made. Saying that sounds diminishing, though. This is actually quite a fun little film that gets some of its entertainment value from the relative novelty of its subject matter.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a Manhattan messenger for a service that specializes in secure deliveries. One sunny afternoon, he is sent to deliver an envelope from a city university to a location dozens of blocks away. No sooner does he have the envelope than a shady guy named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) tries to take it from him. Wilee, an aggressive bike rider who knows how to maneuver through tight spaces, manages to escape, but Monday soon begins chasing him through the streets of New York.
Yes, Premium Rush is essentially a 90-minute chase movie, yet it manages to stay interesting for its entire length. The plot jumbles its time frame a bit. For about half an hour, you don't know why Monday wants whatever Wilee is carrying. Then the film backs up, showing us his motivation for pursuing it so relentlessly. Later, it backs up again, so that we know what is in the much-desired envelope and why it is important. By using a slightly non-linear approach to storytelling, Premium Rush avoids the predictable A-B-C method of plot development.
The chase scenes are exceptionally well-staged. You wouldn't think a movie about a guy riding his bike through Manhattan would be so interesting. Director David Koepp (Ghost Town, Stir of Echoes) uses a very cool technique. At several points throughout the film, we freeze on Wilee, who is trying to make a split-second decision regarding the safest route to take in order to navigate certain road hazards. Each time, we see the character visualize a path, then watch as the future – usually some variation of him wrecking or hitting something – unfolds. Upon realizing one path won't work, he envisions another and another until finding one that will lead to safety. Bits like this really go a long way toward showing how perilous the life of a bike messenger can be. The cinematography is terrific, giving you the feeling that you're on a bike right alongside of Wilee. Onscreen maps and graphics additionally convey the great distances Wilee must cover, not only to make his delivery but also to outrun Monday.
The best thing about Premium Rush, though, is the performance from Michael Shannon, who doesn't go over-the-top but certainly walks right up to that line. His villain is equally comic and menacing, with the actor doing his version of the off-kilter psychos often played by the likes of Christopher Walken. It's that same kind of gonzo, Walken-esque turn. Shannon single-handedly elevates the entertainment level of the whole movie.
Obviously, there's not a lot of substance here, and Koepp aims to give you nothing more than a good ride. But Premium Rush is indeed a good ride. It moves like a bullet, has some effective chase sequences, and gives you Michael Shannon as one of the year's most memorable bad guys. It's far more enjoyable than you might expect.
( out of four)
Premium Rush is rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action sequences and language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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