is not the film you’re hoping it is from the trailers. There are hints of what could and might have been, which only serve as a sad reminder of what the film is not. Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and yes, there are allusions to the famous cartoon coyote) is a bike messenger and recent law school graduate who rides a fixed-gear bicycle, or “fixie” -- no brakes, no gears, no stopping. When given an assignment to retrieve an envelope from his former university, he encounters the dangerous Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who is intent on taking the envelope -- containing a ticket worth $50,000 -- to settle his own gambling debt with some local Chinese criminals.
Along for the ride are Wilee’s colleagues Manny (Wole Parks) and sometimes-girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), who get mixed up in this game of cat and mouse as Monday pursues the bicycling Wilee through the streets of New York City. Director David Koepp (Secret Window, Ghost Town) utilizes a miniaturized map of the city with tilt-shift photography and animation to give the audience a sense of scale and location, but the gimmick wears thin early on, resembling a commercial rather than a feature film. Similarly, as Wilee approaches hazardous intersections animated arrows are used to show the various paths he can take to overcome obstacles, imagining the many (often humorous) ways in which he’ll hurt himself.
For a film with a premise that involves chasing a cyclist through the streets of New York, Premium Rush
isn’t nearly as ridiculous as it could be. Michael Shannon appears to be the only actor on set who knows what movie they should be making, and thus seems to be appearing in an almost entirely different film. His absurd, over-the-top laugh and Elmer Fudd-like approach to the role give his scenes a more cartoonish quality, while Gordon-Levitt plays it straight. Shannon’s scenes are immediately exciting and interesting, but when he’s absent, the film lacks energy.
There’s little action, though there’s plenty of bicycle chases and races, but many of those scenes feature head-on shots of the actors on their bikes, communicating with each other via phone. It’s all too safe and straightforward, and waiting for the shot of adrenaline that never arrives becomes an exercise in tedium.
The characters are painted as rebellious types who agitate pedestrians, motorists and the local police with their stunts as they bike down walkways and grab onto cars to hitch a ride. But they don’t seem like anarchic role models living by their own too-cool codes -- they seem like thoughtless, rude jerks who endanger the lives of others with their careless biking. And because of this they are never once empathetic, making it that much harder for us to care what happens to them.
Jamie Chung plays Nima, a crucial thread of the story that ties Wilee, Vanessa and Bobby together -- a Chinese immigrant whose stereotypical cadence is unnecessarily dialed up to 11. Her story does little to add emotion to the proceedings, injecting maudlin beats that inspire some of the worst editing and dialogue in the film.
The biggest problem with Premium Rush is that it doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be. Absurdist bicycle actioner that hearkens back to the '90s with its cheesy lines and “damn the man” attitude, or a thin crime drama centering on a bicycle messenger who picks up the wrong job? The former would have been more entertaining, and we get glimpses of that when Gordon-Levitt talks about “shredding” on his bike, or when Shannon says, well, anything. But Shannon is acting in that '90s throwback film, while Gordon-Levitt and rest of the cast are tragically stuck in a more serious effort. The dialogue and situations are never quite absurd enough to merit such severe treatment, creating a yearning for something a little more tongue-in-cheek and silly. This is a movie that features a bicycle flash mob and a chase scene that involves two cyclists skidding their bikes under a flatbed truck -- how can it be so boring?
There is little momentum or thrill to provide hope that the film will improve over its 91-minute runtime, which sadly begins to feel like two hours. When you stare longingly into the abyss of movie popcorn, you will find that there is nothing in there that can fill the void that Premium Rush has created in you. Free of excitement, fun, and confusingly bereft of any real action, Premium Rush is clearly a misnomer.