Pedaling to the metal

Engaging chase movie zips around New York City with energy and danger



Premium Rush
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon. Directed by David Koepp. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

There’s quite a lot to like about Premium Rush technically, dramatically and character-wise, even though it all adds up to something seemingly rather simple and obvious. You might even say that its high-energy and very engaging approach to something “simple and obvious” is what matters most.

Directed by David Koepp (who co-scripted with John Kamps), it’s a chase movie involving bike messengers taking breakneck chances through, across, over and around Manhattan traffic jams. Its 90-plus minutes of more-or-less non-stop filmed-on-location action is an extraordinarily kinetic mix of live cycling action and nifty digital effects.

Brilliant Oscar-worthy editing by Jill Savitt and Derek Ambrosi is a key ingredient in all this, and the whole proposition is made especially engaging by the characters’ shenanigans and those of Koepp and Kamps in the storytelling as well. The central plot thread has an acrobatic bike messenger named Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) trying to make an urgent delivery of an envelope while pursued by a menacing plain-clothes cop, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who has designs of his own on that same envelope’s peculiar contents.

The chase loses none of its momentum even as Koepp and company segue into fast-moving (and highly pertinent) flashbacks concerning Monday’s gambling debts, Wilee’s volatile romance with fellow messenger Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), and Vanessa’s break with her roommate Nima (Jamie Chung). The Chinese underworld, clandestine immigration, a flash-mob intervention and Wilee’s rivalry with fellow messenger Manny (Wol” Parks) all come into play as the action zips along.

Gordon-Levitt, droll and quick-witted, makes a particularly lively hero for this little tale. His name derives from Wile E. Coyote of cartoon fame, and he zips, zooms, crashes, bounces, hurdles, changes direction and zips again in live action worthy of his namesake. He’s also a daredevil trickster with a touch of the mythological coyote to him.

Shannon’s Bobby Monday has some of the same qualities, which partly makes his strung-out villain into a darkly farcical inversion of Wilee. Shannon, of course, has made a name for himself playing off-kilter and/or delusional characters, and here he brings those gifts to bear in making Monday seem a half-cracked fool with a kind of genius for schemes that get him in over his by no means empty head. Plus, his slightly slurred New York accent is the film’s best bit of local color.

Aasif Mandvi, as the messengers’ grungy dispatcher, makes a particularly pungent and credible contribution among the supporting players. And Ramirez shows hints of potential for further action roles herself.