Premium Rush

"Premium Rush" deftly straddles the line between stupid and clever for the entirety of its brisk running time.

Wilee - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Bobby Monday - Michael Shannon
Vanessa - Dania Ramirez
Nima - Jamie Chung
Manny - Wole Parks
Raj - Aasif Mandvi
Bike Cop - Christopher Place

The lovably ridiculous bike-messenger thriller “Premium Rush” is a welcome throwback. In a film world where genre fare is elevated to the level of serious cinema, and B-movie helmers have a penchant for self-aware irony, they just don’t make dumb movies like they used to. But “Premium Rush” deftly straddles the line between stupid and clever for the entirety of its brisk running time, wearing its inessentiality on its sleeve, and though B.O. will be modest, the pic could thrive in its natural habitat as lazy Sunday cable fodder.

Directed and co-scripted by frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator David Koepp (screenwriter on “Jurassic Park,” “War of the Worlds,” etc.), and starring Christopher Nolan muse Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the aptly named protag Wilee, “Premium Rush” feels engineered to provide its principals with a bit of a breather between shouldering blockbusters. It’s clear that everyone involved, from cast to crew, understands the inherent silliness of the material, but while the film never tries to introduce any undue seriousness into the proceedings, it never winks at them either, earnestly embracing the idea that Manhattan’s kamikaze corps of bicycle messengers exists as a band of Kerouackian urban pirates.

Spending the vast majority of his screentime sweating atop a bicycle, Wilee is a former law student who fancies himself a samurai of the bike-messenger trade, perilously weaving through traffic on a fixed-gear all-steel model with no brakes. Lest the danger of the job escape audiences, the film opens on Wilee’s flailing body hurtling through the air in slow-motion after a collision, immediately flashing back to several hours prior. (The relentlessly non-chronological film is full of onscreen clocks, maps and text messages, which, however chintzy, greatly reduce the need for expositional ballast.)

Embroiled in some pre-existing drama with fellow messenger and girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), who herself seems to be taking a fancy to another co-worker, the jockish Manny (Wole Parks), Wilee had taken on a mysterious delivery earlier in the day, agreeing to shepherd an envelope from Vanessa’s roommate, Chinese exchange student Nima (Jamie Chung), across the borough to a Chinatown dive. Immediately intercepted by a sweaty, malevolent detective (Michael Shannon) who’s keen to recover the envelope, Wilee takes off on a street chase that will essentially constitute the rest of the film, further complicating things by attracting the attention of a dogged, accident-prone bike cop (Christopher Place).

Through all the time-jumping and nonstop pedaling (even Bradley Wiggins would struggle to keep pace with this crew), a story eventually emerges involving organized crime, immigrant smuggling and the perils of Pai Gow poker addiction, with hints of a “Chinatown”-esque skeleton in Wilee’s closet explaining his curious aversion to brakes. Paying attention to this irregularly unfolding narrative is entirely optional, however, and not particularly recommended, as the film never pauses long enough to linger.

Most of the actors exude a general laissez-faire attitude throughout — even Gordon-Levitt’s bloody real-life crash during filming is played for laughs in the closing credits — though Shannon takes the opportunity to consume every inch of scenery with ferocious gusto. Marble-mouthed to the extent that he renders “uncooperative” as a two-syllable word, he manages to evoke a slightly cuddlier version of Gary Oldman’s schizoid cop in “Leon: the Professional.”

In the early going, the film does well to exploit the anarchic geography of downtown Manhattan for a series of setpieces, though it runs out of ideas toward the end, eventually dispensing with all attempts at creativity and simply dropping huge cranes and balance beams into its cyclists’ paths. In the film’s most eye-rolling gimmick, Wilee weaves through traffic by essentially stopping time and visualizing all possible routes through traffic a la Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”; never are the film’s budgetary limitations more apparent.

Popular on Variety

Premium Rush

Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of a Pariah production. Produced by Gavin Polone. Executive producer, Mari Jo Winkler-Ioffreda. Directed by David Koepp. Screenplay, Koepp, John Kamps.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Mitchell Amundsen; editors, Jill Savitt, Derek Ambrosi; music, David Sardy; production designer, Therese DePrez; art director, Charles V. Beal; set decorator, George DeTitta; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/Datasat), Tom Nelson; supervising sound editors, Paul Hsu, Philip Stockton; re-recording mixers, Lee Dichter, Michael Barry; visual effects supervisor, Paul Linden; visual effects, Zoic Studios; special effects supervisor, Fred Buchholz; stunt coordinator, Stephen Pope; assistant director, Joseph Reidy; casting, John Papsidera, Pat McCorkle. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, Calif., Aug. 21, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: Wilee - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Bobby Monday - Michael Shannon
Vanessa - Dania Ramirez
Nima - Jamie Chung
Manny - Wole Parks
Raj - Aasif Mandvi
Bike Cop - Christopher PlaceWith: Henry O, Sean Kennedy, Kymberly Perfetto, Anthony Chrisholm, Boyce Wong, Brian Koppelman, Hoon Lee, Kin Shing Wong, Wai Ching Ho.

More Film

  • Box Office Mojo new

    Box Office Mojo Site Transformed by IMDbPro

    BoxOfficeMojo.com has been transformed into an IMDbPro site, losing some of its free features. The Amazon-owned site, which had previously operated free of charge, was given a new look with its header reading “Box Office Mojo by IMDb Pro.” Information such as breakdowns by genre is now only available behind the IMDbPro paywall. The Box [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Hocus Pocus' Sequel in Development at Disney Plus

    Disney Plus has launched development of a sequel to 1993’s fantasy comedy “Hocus Pocus” with “Workaholics” writer and co-producer Jen D’Angelo on board to script. The original “Hocus Pocus” starred Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as a trio of witch sisters who have been cursed since 1693 in Salem, Ma. The witches [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Wins 2019 Eppy Award for Best Digital Magazine

    Variety has won two Eppy Awards from Editor & Publisher, including Best Digital Magazine and Best Collaborative Investigative/Enterprise Feature for “American (In)Justice” — a collaboration with fellow PMC property Rolling Stone. “American (In)Justice” also tied with USA Today’s “Copy, Paste, Legislate” collaboration with The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity. Variety has provided [...]

  • Joker Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

    Box Office: Villains Face Off Again as 'Joker' and 'Maleficent' Battle for First Place

    Despite three new nationwide releases, domestic box office charts look to be dominated by holdovers — Warner Bros.’ “Joker” and Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” — during the last weekend in October. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted last weekend with $36 million in North America, enough to dethrone “Joker” after the super-villain origin story’s back-to-back [...]

  • Yasushi Shiina

    Tokyo Market is Finding New Strengths, Says Yasushi Shiina

    Clouds on the global economic horizon and disruption to the scheduling of the event, have done little to dampen the interest of foreign visitors to TIFFCOM, Japan’s biggest film and TV market. Especially those from China, says market head, Yasushi Shiina. The market is again running at the Sunshine City shopping, entertainment and business complex [...]

  • "Weathering With You" directed by Makoto

    Toho Unveils Dual Media Romance 'Love Me, Love Me Not' at Tokyo Market

    Japan’s biggest film company, which produces, distributes and exhibits its own product in partnership with leading media companies, Toho has brought a line-up to TIFFCOM full of present and future hits. The biggest is “Weathering with You,” the love story animation by Makoto Shinkai that surpassed the $100 million mark only a month after its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content