If you are looking for a fast-paced, entertaining collage of a movie then Premium Rush is the movie to see. It harkens back to a time where action films didn’t have to be about such serious topics as drug running or doomsday weapons, and instead could just be about a hero outwitting an over the top villain who could shout lines like “Delinquent scum!” and not come across as cheesy, but oddly at home in the world. It’s simultaneously silly and thrilling in equal measure with a narrative that flashes between character backstories and plot points as if each character began with their own chapter in a Dan Brown Novel.
The hero of the film is Wilee, whose name’s resemblance to a certain coyote is the first indication of the madcap tone the movie espouses. He’s a package courier on a no-brake fixie bike who explains via voice-over that the only thing he really worries about is getting a boring office job, and is skilled at plotting routes through heavy traffic by imagining crash scenarios with the comical touch of a cartoonist plotting Tom and Jerry storyboards.
After he picks up a package from his exes’ worried roommate, Nima (Jamie Chung) he quickly becomes embroiled in the antics of Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) a bizarrely menacing dirty cop who pursues Wilee like a man who’s just been rear ended by a yuppie hit-and-runner, desperate to retrieve his package. Along the way Wilee will tangle with a rival, Manny (Wole Parks), and attempt to explain his speed demon fixation to Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and reconcile his relationship with her.
For those who are habitual bike riders, Premium Rush’s scenes of insane close calls and flagrant disregard for one-way streets will be enough to set your hair on end. Wilee dodges through traffic nonstop, treating the entire street like a massive parkour routine, enraging pedestrians and bike cops alike with an air of devil-may-care that is perhaps one pedal away from suicidal abandon. It’s only Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Zen-like concentration and cocky good-natured smile that stops him from being a pure adrenaline freak, and his relationship to Vanessa helps show a kid who is simply having too much fun to consider the consequences of his lifestyle.
But though the bikes are fast and the escapes are daring, it’s Bobby Monday’s hair-trigger cop who steals the movie. Michael Shannon plays him as though he were an actor ostensibly playing a NYPD officer who appears to have researched for his role by watching a cop from a Looney Tunes cartoon, and is so hilariously inept at police work that it makes perfect sense for him to say “I forgot my bullets” as a way of getting away from his fellow officers who appear equally oblivious to his nutty persona.
It’s quite simply a role that succeeds because Shannon knows how derivative and off the wall it is, and so goes the extra mile to portray Monday like a man out of his depth so much so that he’s basically living in a cartoon world. Shannon’s slightly manic laugh is like a snidely whiplash mustache that makes the character irresistibly entertaining to watch, rather than purely menacing, while his haplessness reminds us how ridiculously out of place he is and underlines the cartoony nature of the film.
Add in a couple choice song selections that set the scene perfectly and the whole thing feels like it could have been made in the 80s, with everything from the carefree Wilee’s commitment to “Running reds and killin’ peds” and Shannon’s poor gambling prowess seen through a film of nostalgia for larger than life character quirks. Bobby even refers to himself as “Forest J. Ackerman” of famous sc-ifi writer fame at one point, harkening back to the casual character-referencing days of years past.
Premium Rush doesn’t have much in way of emotional arcs, and its conclusion is so completely silly and misjudged that the film ends on a minor note. Its highs are great however, and there is something genuinely amazing about it’s commitment to real-world bicycle stunts rather than green screen bravado. Add in its relatively short runtime, and Bobby Monday’s humorous antics, and it’s the perfect film to see on a slow day when you’re jonsing for a little Rush.