2012 was a stellar year for Joseph Gordon-Levitt with supporting appearances in The Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln, whilst also being the joint star of Looper. In the mix was Premium Rush, his only solo lead of that year and, while the film itself didn’t set the world alight, he has since proved that this was a mere bump along his career road.
Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) is a New York City bicycle courier along with his ex-girlfriend Vanessa, (Dania Ramirez). She is the only thing which is keeping him down in a job he otherwise loves. One normal day Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) specifically asks for Wilee to deliver a letter to a Chinese smuggler confirming payment of $50,000 for her son to be brought to the U.S. She chooses Wilee because she knows he is the best at what he does.
Unbeknownst to them, corrupt police officer Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) has been tipped-off about the value of this letter in order to pay off some gambling debts. When he catches up with Wilee, it’s a game of cat-and-mouse and Bobby will stop at nothing to get what he wants. With Nima’s reunion with her son hanging in the balance, Wilee uses all of his skills to get the letter to its destination.
This is a strange film to call, because on one hand it’s quite light-hearted in tone with the absurd cycling tricks and playful banter between Wilee, Vanessa and Bobby. Yet Shannon is always brilliant as the bad guy and he brings that certain seriousness to it, especially when it comes to his character threatening various people.
What isn’t difficult to call is that while the storyline is passable, the execution is a pretty poor. The amount of times Wilee speeds through oncoming traffic and swerves in between cars is laughable. Then there are the parts where he analyses how to cycle out of a sticky situation, which involves predicting and imagining what would happen to him if he took each option available. Let’s just say that it could be something out of the green cross code.
But as an action film, there are worse films out there and there is a certain level of excitement in following our hero around at high-speed. It’s also worth a look to see New York from a different point of view, and Gordon-Levitt’s charm and some moments of clever editing mean all’s not too bad. Plus Michael Shannon is always watchable. Having said that, the ending just further adds to the preposterous tone of things (cycling community unite!), but by that point you probably realise there will be no redeeming feature to the plot.
Although this will appeal more to cycling enthusiasts, they will have to completely overlook the technical inaccuracies on top of what the rest of us have to put up with: dodgy acting (Dania Ramirez, that’s you), ridiculous biking manoeuvres and incredibly cheesy scenes – much like a Lance Armstrong media circus. If you can put those aside, Premium Rush dispatches some enjoyable moments in an otherwise substandard delivery.