Boasting a generic title more befitting of an energy drink and similar aspirations regarding characterization, writer-director David Koepp’s pleasantly stripped-down ticking-clock thriller is one of those late summer time-wasters that’s just Good Enough for Government Work. Premium Rush is the kind of picture that will play like gangbusters on afternoon cable, but feels a bit thin when you’re shelling out upwards of 10 bucks for a night at the movies.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt cements his nascent star status as Wilee “The Coyote,” a law-school washout who instead found his calling as one of those asshole bike messengers zipping through rush-hour traffic at unfathomable speeds, in his case on a fixed-gear bicycle with no brakes. See, Wilee doesn’t believe in brakes, as we are incessantly re-told in some of the movie’s more regrettable sub-Vin Diesel Fast and Furious philosophizing.
But at the tail end of one particularly crappy Friday, Wilee finds himself delivering an envelope that is very much desired by a belligerent crooked cop with dental problems. Michael Shannon, our great broken cuckoo clock of a character actor, plays him as if the blueprints for his performance were drawn up by late-period Nicolas Cage. It’s a delightfully goofy hambone turn, even if Shannon’s Bugs Bunny accent combined with Gordon-Levitt’s ill-fitting nickname might lead one to believe Koepp got his Looney Tunes all mixed up.
Obviously, Wilee is really the Road Runner, frantically pedaling his way out of one death-trap after another in what amounts to a movie-length chase sequence in real time, with only occasional pauses for flashbacks to pesky stuff like exposition. Premium Rush moves in a big hurry, spit-polishing the nonstop action with a brightly colored 1980’s throwback gloss calling to mind low-stakes VHS relics of a forgotten era.
Kudos to Gordon-Levitt for somehow making such a smug protagonist likable and to Shannon for bringing the crazy, but as always, with Koepp projects, there’s something just a little flat. Premium Rush is a tight little thriller, briskly told. And I’m already having a hard time remembering anything else about it.