‘Premium Rush’ Review: Adrenaline Trumps Logic in This Exhilarating Bike Chase

Joseph Gordon-Levitt zips around Manhattan on two wheels in a silly — but thrilling — action movie

Last Updated: August 24, 2012 @ 11:40 AM

Perhaps the first movie to brought to you by 5-Hour Energy and Google Maps, “Premium Rush” zigs and zags around the plot almost as much as champion bike courier Wiley (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) weaves his way through Manhattan traffic.

It’s a good thing that adrenaline tends to short-circuit logical thinking; the plot is mostly nonsensical, but you’ll be too thrilled by the literal twists and turns to care much.

As stories go, this one’s pretty basic: Wiley picks up an envelope at NYU and has to deliver it to Chinatown by 7 p.m. Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) wants to take that envelope from him. And … go!

Granted, the screenplay (by John Kamps and director David Koepp) fills in the blanks, jumping backward from the perspective of various different characters, letting us know why Wiley made the pickup, what’s in the envelope, why Monday wants it so desperately, and so on. (They also throw in a nifty running gag about legendary horror-movie champion Forrest J. Ackerman.)

Not that any of that ultimately matters all that much, even though it does give Shannon the opportunity to chew the scenery with gusto. This is a live-action Road Runner cartoon transplanted from the desert to the city.

Which is not to say that “Premium Rush” isn’t a blast to watch, from Wiley’s split-second reflexes (at certain intersections, we see diagrams of how his various choice of routes could end up) to his no-holds-barred race through Central Park with rival courier Manny (Wolé Parks) with NYPD bike cops in hot pursuit to the literal ticking clock that periodically pops up on screen.

Apart from Shannon, there’s not a lot of room for acting here, but Koepp keeps his performers (and, no doubt, a hardy crew of doubles) going at full speed. Wiley mentions on several occasions that his bike has no brakes, and neither does the movie, which pedals as fast as it can. With cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (a vet of everything from “Bourne” to “Transformers” to that Jonas Brothers 3D concert movie) and legendary production designer Thérèse DePrez on hand, the film makes New York simultaneously gleaming and treacherous.

In addition to Wiley’s multiple-outcome-vision, the movie’s other neat trick is to periodically cut to a 3D map of New York with swooshing yellow lines showing us where the characters are and where they’re headed, intercut with satellite photos and Google Earth-type pictures of their destinations. “Premium Rush” may well be the first movie designed to eventually be watched on your phone, but its visual moxie merits a look while it’s still on the big screen.

And at 91 minutes, it's smart enough not to wear out its welcome. It’s not a bike tour where you’ll linger on the details or learn anything about the local sights, but you’ll enjoy feeling the wind in your face as you go careening downhill without much in the way of plot or character to weigh you down.

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