Unfortunately, Premium Rush is not quite premium. It’s fresh, occasionally thrilling and funny, and I respect what director David Koepp (Ghost Town, Secret Window) was aiming for, but for all its action the film deserved a much better script.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has certainly been shooting up my list of favourite actors as of late, plays Wilee, a bicycle messenger in New York City. The dude is nuts: weaves through rush hour traffic at top speeds, does crazy stunts and doesn’t even have brakes on his treasured bike. And he’s also a walking (riding) cliche: a clever kid who dropped out of law school so he can earn peanuts while putting his life in danger on the road every day — because it’s cool, I guess.
So on this day, Wilee picks up a package from his alma mater to deliver to Chinatown, and as it turns out, some corrupt cop (played by Michael Shannon) wants it real bad. You don’t really find out the details of this mystery from the start but the film gradually fills you in as it moves along using time-jumping flashbacks and rewinds, usually when it’s taking a break from all the high speed chases.
Premium Rush is an interesting idea (although perhaps not an original one — it’s being sued for copying the novel The Ultimate Rush, about a rollerblading messenger who gets mixed up with some baddies). But I was concerned about how this film, even at a brisk 91 minutes, could keep up the adrenaline rush that it promises to deliver.
For the most part, the film delivers in terms of providing white knuckle action. The bicycle scenes are pure insanity, almost making you like these bike messengers that you would ordinarily want to murder for acting so recklessly on the road. I’m sure quite a lot of special effects and CGI are used in delivering the action, but the scenes generally look very realistic. If you stick around during the credits you’ll see that Gordon-Levitt clearly did some of his own stunts.
Where Premium Rush fails is the script. The so-called mystery plot device inserted to maintain audience interest is unnecessarily convoluted and filled with Asian stereotypes that border on offensive. (I know the film predominantly caters towards Western audiences, but surely they could have hired actors who can actually speak Chinese? Come on!).
The dialogue had a few funny lines sprinkled throughout but on the whole it was atrocious. This was the type of film where every time the characters spoke you had to deduct points. There was one particular bar scene between Gordon Levitt and his (ex?) girlfriend, played by Dania Ramirez from Heroes, that evoked one of my worst cinematic cringes so far this year.
Gordon-Levitt is believable and likable as the smooth-taking and fast-riding Wilee, as I expected he would be, but Michael Shannon felt somewhat over the top as the crazy immoral cop. But at least he had fun with it. The one I have to single out is Jamie Chung, who has to win some sort of award for the worst fake Chinese accent of all-time. This is really more the casting agent’s fault than hers because apparently Chung is a second generation Korean-American who really has no business trying to speak Chinese or put on a fake Chinese accent. It was horrible and shows just how few roles there are for Asian actresses in Hollywood.
Overall, Premium Rush is strictly an escapist popcorn movie that’s all style and very little substance. The film had its share of cool and exciting moments, but unless you’re really into bike riding it’s unlikely you’ll find it anything more than slightly above average. I enjoyed the action but the various flaws bothered me too much for me to give it anything higher than…
3 stars out of 5