Prolific action writer David Koepp makes his fifth directorial appearance with Premium Rush, an adrenaline-fuelled vehicular action thriller that innovatively swaps the engine for pedal power.
The narrative follows Wilee, a New York bike messenger who spends his days racing though the manic streets of downtown Manhattan without fears, gears or brakes. After collecting a mysterious package, the young adrenaline junkie discovers he has pedalled into a dangerous plot of corruption, gang warfare and illegal immigration. Pursued by a dirty cop who wants the package in order to pay off his immense gambling debts, Wilee embarks on a ninety-minute race across the city, during premium rush hour to deliver the package with dangers lurking at every crossing.
Admittedly, as intriguing as an action film about biking through the streets of Manhattan may seem in terms of originality, it does initially feel a little silly compared to the intensity of contemporary action. However, through on-location shooting, bike-mounted footage and ceaseless chases David Koepp successfully creates a fun and exhilarating ride as Premium Rush is a film in constant motion and continues to expand on itself to deliver increasingly exciting action sequences.
The narrative hinges on the real time presentation which follows Wilee over the course of his ninety minute delivery with several obtrusive flashbacks and flashforwards exposing different elements of the backstory. Unfortunately, this non-linearity results in an uncomfortable viewing experience, but it also invites some interesting special effects; each of which matches the innovation and clever simplicity of the premise, from the computer generated digital clock that is employed as a constant reminder of the real-time presentation to the slow-motion Google Street View esque mental decisions Wilee makes to decipher which route will be quickest and safest.
These brief moments of calm emphasise the stoicism of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s leading role. Beneath the conventional tenacious action hero is a level of humanity that Gordon Levitt brings to each of his previous roles. Firmly established as an outstanding modern talent with his acclaimed roles in cult hits Brick, 500 Days of Summer and 50/50, he continues to make a name for himself within the action genre. Quite simply, without his natural charisma, verisimilitude and almost universal likeability neither Inception, Looper nor Premium Rush would be half as good.
Regardless of how impressive Gordon Levitt is, it is the ever impressive Michael Shannon who once again steals this film. As the corrupt FBI agent he casts a malevolent, tormented figure; a cartoonish villain fit with a maniacal laugh. Even in a conventional Hollywood thrill ride Shannon brings his best and promotes the film from a standard action fare to a truly memorable experience.
Premium Rush is a film without pretence, Koepp has no delusions of grandeur or misguided Academy aspirations. It’s a simple action film that recognises its boundaries and is entirely comfortable within them. Despite the occasional set back, it delivers a fun, fast and intense ninety minutes that was promised.