This thriller set among the world of New York bicycle couriers is as nifty and nimble as a bunnyhop through rush-hour gridlock. Told in one sweaty day of a high tail cat and mouse chase across a broiling Manhattan, it stars the increasingly watchable and intelligent Joseph-Gordon Levitt as Wilee, the fastest two wheels in the city.
He's a young man who rides a stripped-down bike with no gears, no brakes and cripes, no bell! Like a scuttling rat, Wilee (as in Cayote) bombs down the concrete and glass canyons of Manhattan, zig-zagging, leaping and acrobatically navigating open car doors, pesky traffic cops, and the Muggle mass of everyday commuters.
Two wheels good; four wheels bad so and in the eyes of choked, traffic-bound motorists, Wilee is a few notches below mere pedestrians. He clearly loves the thrill of the ride and is intoxicated by the omnipresent danger of ending up as road kill. But he's not just a flashy saddle jockey – he’s also a Columbia University law grad who’ll do anything to avoid the dead end of an office job so he takes his life into his handlebars every day delivering urgent packages across the island for a pittance.
When he picks up a harmless-looking envelope from a very worried Chinese student up in the Columbia campus he’s told it’s a priority drop. This is the premium rush of the title and it throws Wilee into a very dangerous and serpentine story involving some very, very nasty people who want to get their hands on the delivery before it arrives.
Chief among these is Michael Shannon as bent NYPD-er Det. Bobby Monday. Shannon, soon to be seen as General Zod in Man of Steel, is one of the most magnetic screen baddies I’ve seen in a while. He’s psychotic, funny and with a leering rictus grin which gives him the look of Jaws from the Bond movies. He’s also a cunning swine with a gambling addiction. Too many nights spent in the seedy backrooms of Chinatown have left him way out of his depth and seriously in debt to the Triads.
Premium Rush is smarter than your average yoof action flick and when it takes the real time narrative (a la Nick of Time, Run Lola Run) and plays around with the chronological order to tell the story from different viewpoints, it adds another level of intrigue. This is fast-moving, occasionally witty stuff with only a distracting romance sub plot and a few dud performances among the young and pretty cast to slow down the breakneck speed.
This is where I’m meant to say Premium Rush is a white-knuckle ride of pure pumping adrenalin. Actually, it’s a grazed knuckle ride of nifty bike tricks and pumping thighs. It’s also a great, big, brash blast of fun.