Would anyone be surprised if I told you Premium Rush was a pretty dumb movie? The last time I saw anyone try to give credibility to the bike courier was in the 1997 video game Courier Crisis, and even the child-sized version of me didn't take the concept seriously back then. The problem isn't that Premium Rush is dumb, but the ways in which it acquires its dumbness.
Crank, by comparison, is a dumb movie. The entire plot is established in the first five minutes and the rest of the movie is Jason Statham being ridiculous. It's also an amazing and hilarious way to spend 90 minutes. Premium Rush, on the other hand, is almost as much work to sit through as it surely was for the actors and stunt cast to pedal through.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a courier that would rather die than put on a suit. He rides a fixed gear bike with no brakes, because being able to stop makes you hesitate. He is considered crazy by his friends, rivals, and girlfriend, but he is also the best at what he does (of course). When a package gets him on a dirty cop's radar (Michael Shannon), his death wish suddenly becomes a lot more real.
Conceptually, Premium Rush has the kind of elegant premise that should make for a fun, if not entirely thought-provoking night at the movies. It's too bad then, that in practice the furious pedaling and relentless bike chases actually make for some rather boring action.
Barreling through an intersection of CG cars is only exciting so many times, and aside from a contrived bike tricking section near the end, that's about as complex as the action ever gets. Sometimes we see what Wilee sees, broken down into examples of him crashing and then finally making it through. It's a neat idea, but it's presented with about as much class as Axe Body Spray, and the crashes are ruined by some pretty horrendous effects.
Other than that, the action is all furious pedaling and rushing around over a soundtrack that would have worked better for an extreme brand of instant macaroni and cheese. The style, or lack thereof, is a result of the filmmakers taking the easy route. Broseph Gordon-Levitt and his crew of merry couriers are almost all hilarious stereotypes, and overall the vibe of Premium Rush feels about a decade late. Then again, it's called Premium Rush, so I should have seen this coming.
Without solid action to keep the simple concept going, the writers opted to tell the story out of order, introduce unnecessary characters, and generally drag out the plot as much as possible. It's clear that it was a feat to reach that hour-and-a-half runtime, with an in-media-res story structure and a pile of flashbacks to pad things out.
The one highlight of the film is Michael Shannon as the strung-out, down-on-his-luck, dirty cop that harasses JGL throughout the film. His unhinged scene-chewing antics are completely over-the-top, but that's exactly what Premium Rush needed more of. Had the rest of the plot matched the absurdity of his performance, we'd be talking about a much different movie right now.
"I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can't stop. Don't want to, either." With a quote like that and a name like Premium Rush it's too bad the film doesn't keep up. What should be exciting quickly becomes boring, and what should be simple is unnecessarily convoluted. Next time I hire a courier they better make the delivery in half the time.