The kinetic, frenetic and "cyclotic" "Premium Rush" (aka "Ride Like Hell"), is a high-speed chase joining day-to-day high tech with good old-fashioned pedals and wheels, and it is a heck of a ride.
This real-time bike messenger thrill show is made human by the presence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the most engaging, and regularly employed, young stars out there.
Gordon-Levitt at one time looked like he could be the next Tom Hanks – cute, vulnerable, puppy-eyed and smart. But with "Premium Rush," he proves he has the potential to take the Harrison Ford-Indiana Jones "everyman" action hero crown, and wear it proudly over his slightly crooked grin.
With close-cropped hair and a wiry athleticism, Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a Manhattan bicycle messenger ridiculously overqualified for his job. He has a law degree he isn't using (and no brakes, he doesn't use those either), and is a top (former) stunt rider who could be Tony Hawk-ing up endorsements if he hadn't given that up to taxi contracts and mortgage papers across the city in a pack on his back.
Director David Koepp, who co-wrote what passes for a story here, knows exactly which buttons to push – on Wilee's GPS and in the audience – to make sure that, in this otherwise conventional little thriller, virtually all the fun is in getting there.
Wilee is a wise guy, but he takes his job seriously, so when he gets a premium rush job to deliver an envelope across town in 90 minutes (the length of the film), he intends to do it. Even after a hulking, Lurch-like guy (Michael Shannon) pretending to be with the FBI tries to talk him out of his cargo, and threatens his friends, family, anyone he cares about in the process. "Hey man, who are you?!," Wilee says, flipping his bike and exiting before the guy can pick his jaw up.
For a while, we only know what Wilee knows – that he's being paid $30 for the rush job, that the young woman who gave him the envelope was really nervous, and that this d-bag who confronted him is now pursuing him in a car – violently.
The back story unveils itself in quick flashbacks, marked digitally on screen outside the framework of our 90-minute countdown. Dastardly forces are at work here on several levels, from the Chinese government and Chinatown traitors to rogue elements within the NYPD. Koepp doles out this information piecemeal, as much to let his audience catch their breath as to inform, and then tears off on the next mad chase through the incredibly crowded and hazard-filled streets of Manhattan.
Bicycle messengers and their culture get a bad rap – "running reds and killing peds," as Wilee puts it – but by putting us right on the seat with them, Koepp has his audience totally along for the ride, hanging on for dear life and grinning ear to ear.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez
Director: David Koepp
Running time: 91 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some violence, intense action sequences and language.
The Lowdown: Manhattan's best bicycle messenger gets more than he bargains for with an end-of-day rush job to Chinatown.