For the most part writer/director David Koepp has seen only moderate success when in the director’s chair with the films Stir of Echoes and Secret Window. I mention this simply because he is one of the most prolific writers of our time, and most movie goers have no idea who he is or even what a screenwriter actually does. A quick glance at his writing resume some titles that jump out are Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Panic Room and Spider-man. Koepp is pretty much your go to guy when a blockbuster film is in need of a writer. Because of my geeky love for the films Koepp has helped write, I can’t help but get excited when I know he’s working on another project. But somehow Premium Rush snuck up on me.
From the first frame of the film it wastes no time getting the action going as we watch Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) flying through the air in bullet time after his bike has collided with a car. Quickly things begin to rewind taking us to the start of his hellish day. Wilee is a rebellious former law student that showed a lot of promise but just never settled down to take the bar exam. Right now he’s simply enjoying life as a message courier in New York City while struggling to make things right with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez).
It’s made clear from the start being a bike courier in NYC is more than just a job that requires a lot of stamina but also the acceptance that your life is in danger at every moment. Wilee uses his smarts and skills from his days as a trick BMX biker to be the best of the best bicycle couriers in the city. And it’s this day when he is asked to deliver a package to Chinatown that he is going to have to put his skill and stamina to the test.
What makes this package different from the rest is that Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a dirty cop with a gambling problem, needs to intercept this package in order to clear his debts to a local crime boss. It’s at this point in the story where they started to lose me, because not once do we feel Monday is any danger from the mob; even after taking a beating he simply bounces back to give a beating of his own to the lackey responsible for knocking out one of his teeth. The gambling underworld just seemed too sterile, and with Monday walking into these places doing as he pleases it simply makes it hard to believe he has anything to be concerned about. Well, Monday is relentless and will do anything it takes to intercept this package.
The more we learn about the package the more this started to lose me (sorry, won’t be revealing any clues to what it is). In my opinion we never should’ve found out what was in the package. As time ticks by Bobby is getting more dangerous, making it clear if he needs to he will kill to get a hold of the package. After the numerous attempts on his life Wilee actually does something that makes sense; he returns the package from where he picked it up, accepting that an envelope is not worth dying for no matter how honorable you’d like to believe you are. Problem is there is still half a movie left, and we are given more of the same repetitive chases that at first were exciting and enjoyable but quickly wear out their welcome.
The bigger issue with the film stems from the script. For a guy who’s actually written as many great scenes as he has throughout his career, this is his weakest project. There are no surprises or twists worth noting, and what’s worse is the dialog is just awful. Thankfully he has Levitt and Shannon doing most of the speaking, and they do what they can to make it work, but the cheesiness of the dialog is still unavoidable.
Visually though this film works with some creative cinematography and some effects that are thrown in to keep us entertained. One of the clever moments comes when Wilee has to decide which route to take and his mind plays out the various scenarios, and in most of the cases they end badly. These moments bring some good laughs and some groans from the grisly outcomes, but it’s not enough to keep this film afloat. It just kept me wanting more action and more bike stunts that never came to fruition.
Overall Premium Rush is a fun little movie, but will be lost among the other titles coming out in the following weeks. Thankfully for all the talent in front and behind the camera they have some bigger and more promising projects on the horizon that will allow us fans to forgive this minor misstep.