Chasing a Bicycle:
Well, what do you know? Premium Rush is my second film in a week to do ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ (the other was The Possession). There are very few frills to it, but it is endlessly imaginative in ways to hold the attention; and at a time when I at least am sick and tired of car chases this is an action movie with a difference.
Everyone else has had a chance to see their jobs shown in the movies in a heroic light, so why not daredevil bicycle couriers? Why not celebrate what is depicted here as a last stand of the individual and yet a unique sub-culture that has its own codes of behaviour?
Well, I would imagine that one reason might be that most motorists probably hate the sight of these gung-ho chance-takers who don’t seem to think that the rules of the road apply to them because…well, the words ‘arrogant little shits’ came to mind more than once in the first ten minutes.
If you can get over that, though, then settle down, switch off the brain and enjoy a high-octane thriller that just goes straight for the jugular from the very first shot, where we see Joseph Gordon-Levitt flying through the air; and from that moment on it never lets up once.
Gordon-Levitt, who appears to be in everything these days, plays Wilee. It’s a reference to the coyote, obviously, but why not the Roadrunner? He would certainly seem to have more in common with that annoying beep-beeping cartoon bastard.
Wilee is an adrenaline junkie who covers his addiction and his selfishness by making his job out to be some sort of almost spiritual thing. Nonsense, of course; but he rides a fixed- gear, no- brakes bike and he certainly makes you hope that there aren’t many like him out there, even in New York.
He has an on-again off-again girlfriend called Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and a friend and rival—both in love and on the street—called Manny (Wole Parks). They’re also bicycle messengers as well as being a couple of nuts loose in their attitude to keeping life and limb together, although not as much as Wilee.
The slim storyline revolves around an envelope containing a ticket worth $50,000 and a corrupt cop called Bobby Friday who needs it in order to pay off some gambling debts. Not that you have had a chance to take your eyes off the screen, mind you, but this is where you really sit up straight because the cop is played by none other than Michael Shannon. This is the man who portrays the religious nut and ex-Fed from Boardwalk Empire and also the man with the apocalyptic vision in the excellent Take Shelter. If ever there was an actor who could steal a scene just by sitting there in the background and staring with those mad eyes of his, it’s this one. And when he loses the plot and goes bananas…riveting! What’s he like? Imagine that Harvey Keitel as the Bad Lieutenant had a little brother and you’ll get the general idea.
In the middle of all this testosterone it’s nice to mention a beautiful young actress called Jamie Chung as Nima and who actually has a pivotal role but who remains a quiet and thoughtful still point in the middle of all the madness.
David Koepp directs with a frenetic energy that flies the viewer along at a ferocious rate, using every gimmick and camera angle he can think of to brilliant effect. I especially like it when he shows Wilee considering at breakneck speed his alternatives on the road.
Somehow he and his fellow screenwriter manage to give us back stories to the characters without ever letting up the momentum and he even takes a slight detour into the frightening world of the hardcore gambler.
All this plus an acerbic comment on the current economic climate.
“The American Dream is to work three jobs?” the exhausted Nima asks a loan shark.
His reply is: “These days, yes.”
Keep chasing that envelope!