Just a fortnight after witnessing Spider-Man protecting the good citizens of New York City (cross-reference below), it was most instructive to fly around Manhattan at similar speeds as the cartoon original “Webmaster” only, this time, on the ground.
Premium Rush is all about elite bike couriers who have no qualms or fears conquering the city’s perpetual gridlock by weaving in and out—occasionally above—traffic, leaving light signals and right-of-way rules to less adventuresome pedestrians and relatively law-abiding cab drivers and motorists.
Employing a non-linear storyline (literally lifting off with hero Wilee—Joseph Gordon-Levitt ably serving as Security Courier’s, er, spokesperson—airborne, in balletic slow-motion to heighten the effect before coming down hard on the storied pavement, his “vehicle” nowhere in frame), along with CGI graphics and titles, this production looks and feels like a comic book with wheels and no brakes or breaks!
Akin to Stan Lee, the plot (written by John Kamps and David Koepp who also directed) takes a back seat to the action, bringing—on many planes—new meaning to “It’s all in the delivery.” Wilee’s pre-aerial sequence assignment involves ferrying a wee envelope containing an equally small bit of cargo that is worth thousands.
Nima (Jamie Chung rightfully gives little away) is the introverted Asian sender whose suddenly kicked-out roomie, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez pedals her considerable wares with authority) is—wait for it—also a two-wheeled carrier and sometime boyfriend of Wilee.
But the pickup has barely concluded before the bad guy (Michael Shannon, having too much fun with his rants on “douche bag” and “suck it” to be really as nasty as he ought to be ) begins the first of many attempts to intercept the mysterious package—thank goodness he’s a cop, so everything must be on the up-and-up…. No one will be surprised that this member of New York’s finest is rotten to the core—completely fictitious is his definitely not undercover connection to Chinatown’s backroom gambling dens and brutal bullying tactics….
And so the chases and races are on, and on, and on. Adding requisite diversity and a third-wheel romantic sidebar is muscle-rich Wolé Parks spinning his wheels as Wilee’s and Vanessa’s co-worker Manny. Alas, the spandex shot many from either sex would look forward to never materializes.
To pep things up between daredevil cycling manoeuvres, bits of snappy dialogue are added to remind one-and-all that—even though there is deadly violence afoot—nearly everybody has a sense of humour (“Hold my log” being an early hit in the yuk yuk parade).
Rice paper thin subplots include the consequences of speaking out regarding the plight of Tibet, Chinese snakehead practices and the power of the bike riding collective when one of its own is under attack—when the handlebar cavalry is finally summoned, only the Lone Ranger’s/Rossini’s trumpet call was missing.
The special/visual effects units have done a fantastic job of weaving their art into Mitchell Amundsen’s riveting cinematography; Derek Ambrosi’s and Jill Savitt’s editing is worthy of many nods come award season. Slipping in music from Titus Andronicus is a subliminal touch of underscoring the heroics on display.
The “premium” of Koepp’s film is the frenetic pace while the “rush” stems largely from ignoring the transpiring events and savouring the ride. JWR