It’s a time slip when you fall from your bike. Everything slows down as sparks fly and glass falls, you see it all in slo-mo, disconnected but there, watching. Outside it’s all moving very fast, and Premium Rush mind warps your frontal lobe with trick graphics and charismatic gloss, sweat allure. Koepp’s direction swoops us through the world of New York bike messengers, with exciting camera work and twisted shaded corners.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt ( Wile E Coyote ) fills the flesh of Wilee with an awareness of personality. He settles in with darting eyes but the reserve of a man content with his work and the confidence of doing it well. It irks some of his jealous co-workers, but attracts others.
Wilee’s immediately watchable, glam smile and lanky yanks on bike bars and his girlfriend’s arms ( Dania Ramirez ) make Willee the voted-in hero, at work and on the city roads. Wilee is living the life he wants and it shows, there’s nothing in the corner of his mind about where he would rather be.
Everyday is a perfect day for Wilee weaving through NY Tetris traffic jams and door opening apparitions suddenly appearing, after leaping maze-like NY intersections. On a horse with no brakes and one fixed gear ( Fixie ), red lights only mean caution and yellow has been re-assigned to thigh pumping, adrenals action.
It’s another perfect day until Wilee’s co-worker/opponent Manny’s (Wole Parks) happy, toothy snarl rips a job from Wilee, forcing him to take on what turns out to be a near fatal delivery. Wilee gets stuck between traffic lanes of a money ticket heading to Chinatown and a corrupt NY maniacal, raging ADD, gambling cop played brilliantly by (Michael Shannon) Bobby Monday.
Now we never see Bobby snort down a corn field of coke or wrap his mouth around the pipe, but this is one slanted human being. Bobby has seen it all, and doesn’t give a shit about the Policeman’s oath he took 20 years ago. The lines of morality are so thin in Bobby’s mind that lies flow faster than truths and sound better.
The best scenes in the movie are between the characters especially Bobby’s with Wilee.
Michael’s portrayal of aggression and contained desperation with Wilee is nuanced with sublime traces of sympathy. Bobby was a kid once too, he was bright and able-bodied before the city crushed the toothpaste soul out of him.
Bobby is a feverish gambler and fears no man or cockamamy situation he launches himself into. Michael brings so many layers to Bobby it feels like trying to count cards on a six deck shoe in Vegas. But you are still going to try, and it’s fascinating to watch the cards span the table.
On catching the recoil from a couple of enforcers on a gamble gone sour, Bobby weaves empathy and twisted outrage into a physical slamming then slides into hope for the man he just almost killed. The replay on this scene alone is outrageous. I will scour YouTube for the excerpt of this scene.
Michael is the man to play the third remake of BAD LIEUTENANT.
Bobby swings his badge like death’s sickle and mouths words so disconnected sometimes, you can feel the seams of Bobby’s desire to stay alive unthread. It’s a performance not to be missed and a perfect example of why some actors love to play villains. If there is any replay value in Premium Rush it’s here and with Wilee’s flashing smile and virtuoso good guy rush.
New York is a great character, and it wasn’t the usual stand in, Toronto, or a backlot in Baltimore. New York vibes you, the streets, the buildings, the rage, the RUSH. It flicks the messengers on their bikes over intersections, your seat starts to lean forward a little. It’s a hard chop and cut to follow the stream of consciousness of the hyper awareness of Wilee and the chase scenes.
Still the best of scenes are when the characters are settled in and alive. Wilee standing in front of a food dispenser after discovering the wild sociopath Bobby chasing him is a cop and standing right behind him in the Police station. Gordon is developing a watchability here, an inner world, that I haven’t seen from him before. I think this is his best performance to date.
There’s a time device in the script and the money ticket must be delivered to Chinatown before 7, or the boy must stay in China and never see his mother again. It’s a bit heavy handed and melodramatic but it’s lifted with flashbacks and jump forwards in time from different character’s perspectives.
Filling in story, unraveling the goal and adding spice with speed and need for Wilee to be the good guy in his own eyes. Even as Bobby tries to explain that Wile shouldn’t care, there are a million slopes dying every minute. Give up the ticket and stay healthy. Wilee’s virtue isnt for sale, he still has youth and the power to ride.
The ride is the wind and the city is the jungle. Wilee hasn’t been cloned yet, no office walls and no virtual debt or sucking up to the company’s President’s daughter to make headman one day. Wilee is still virile and his heart still sings and no corrupt cop is going to make him give up a ticket to bring home a child to his mother. Bobby’s knows he’s against a granite wall of character before he resorts to leaning on Wilee with malice, almost against his own will.
Fresh character interaction and multi-dimensional acting really propel the story line but when the action starts to turn into bike stunts for the sake of stunts, the immersion starts to degenerate into a quick clip of the X-Games.
There are the smatterings of cliche at the end and Bobby meets his predictable end, yet acts his way out of the usual rendering and still manages to add a gleam of humanity to it.
Premium Rush is a good movie and it would have been great with one more rewrite to balance out the stunts and add alittle more character to tie it all together with an inspired climax.