Bicycle messengers are among those who have the most dangerous jobs in Manhattan, something that Premium Rush captures, albeit with exaggerations.
They navigate crowded city streets at full speed, dart between parked cars and weave around pedestrians to avoid accidents or injuries. And it’s all accomplished under a serious time crunch for a meager salary.
So it’s appropriate that the latest thriller from director David Koepp (Secret Window) maintains a lightning pace that captures the job of bike messengers who push the pedals as well as their own safety on a daily basis.
This is not a documentary, however, and after a high-octane opening act, the film fizzles into a potboiler involving police corruption and stolen merchandise, with our protagonists caught in the middle.
The story takes place over the course of a single afternoon. The versatile Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises) stars as Wilee, whose daredevil mentality has made him one of the fastest and top messengers in the city.
His urgent late-afternoon delivery of an envelope from a law student (Jamie Chung) takes a harrowing turn when he is approached by Bobby (Michael Shannon), a troubled cop who has a sinister plan involving the contents of the package.
That launches a cat-and-mouse chase throughout the city, with Wilee determined to make his delivery and Bobby willing to abuse his authority to stop him.
The script by Koepp and John Kamps provides an adrenaline rush in the first act, when it features a moderate level of insight into bike messengers and their day-to-day routine and interaction, even if Wilee’s two-wheeled rival (Wole Parks) and love interest (Dania Ramirez) each feel like standard supporting characters.
Alas, there’s not as much material there for feature length, thus the introduction of a trumped-up suspense saga in which the mischievous law-benders are the heroes and the cops are the villains.
Gordon-Levitt is one of the year’s breakout stars, and he shows a charisma that carries Premium Rush, in addition to a level of skill and fitness atop a bike that cannot be faked. Shannon (Take Shelter) is another rising star who is relegated here to the role of a cartoonish villain who resorts to fist-shaking and icy glares.
As a tribute to an unheralded profession, the movie has some potential. As a thriller, it hits the skids pretty quickly.
Rated PG-13, 91 minutes.