Movie Review: Premium Rush (2012)
Did it have to be a fixie? That distracted me right away. Dude’s a bike messenger in New York City, zipping along and through massive amounts of traffic, and he has one gear and no brakes? I’ve never understood the appeal of fixies. People ride them even in Seattle. I can’t imagine the leg strength it takes to bike up, say, Queen Anne hill in one gear, or the balls it takes to bike down, say, Fremont hill with no brakes. What’s the advantage? Why take the risk? Is it for the ... premium rush?
Bad title, by the way. I’ve forgotten it about five times since I saw the thing.
No one in this movie gets why Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) rides a fixie, either. Not fellow messenger and sometime-girlfriend Vanessa (the superhot Dania Ramirez, last seen, by me, as Alex on “Entourage”), and not fellow messenger and obnoxious rival for her affections, Manny (Wole Parks). But Wilee has a secret that keeps him safe. He’s the Sherlock Holmes of bike messengers.
You know how the modern cinematic Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) can play out events in his superfast mind before they happen? He can calculate, without really knowing his opponents, which martial arts skills it takes to bring them all down? And then things happen exactly that way? Wilee does the same thing at dicey traffic intersections. This path? Crash 1. That path? Crash 2. The other path? Safety. It’s always the third path. As with jokes.
I admit I was vaguely intrigued by the trailer. Bike messenger has a package, or envelope, or ticket, that he’s supposed to deliver across town, and bad guys (led by Michael Shannon), want it. What could it be?
The movie, jumbled chronologically, begins with Wilee flying silently across the screen and crashing onto the pavement after a bike accident. Drivers are horrified. Vanessa crouches before him teary-eyed with worry. We’re told it’s 6:33 PM and then we flash back to 5:00 PM and Wilee doing his rounds. A slight flirtation with a receptionist. Manny being Manny (i.e., a dick). Wilee and Vanessa on the outs. A last-minute call, or ticket, that Wilee takes. Hey, it’s at Columbia University. Hey, it’s for Vanessa’s roommate, Nima (Jamie Chung). Hey, she seems nervous. Hey, why is this demented, big-headed dude after me?
At Columbia we learn Wilee went to law school but never took the bar. He didn’t want the office life, man. Why make $250-$500 an hour wearing a suit when you could make like $15 an hour riding in the open, polluted air. Vanessa doesn’t get this aspect of him. They’re on the outs because he missed her “school thing,” which turns out to be college graduation, which he thinks isn’t important. I’m with her. For all of Wilee’s hipster accoutrement, his attitude is basically white and privileged. She’s ready to grasp opportunities while he’s coasting on charm and letting opportunities pass him by, because, as a member of the majority group, he can afford to. Dude, just use your knowledge. Pass the bar. Hang a shingle. Help those who need help most. You don’t have to be a corporate lawyer. You can help the Vanessas and Nimas of the world. You know: pretty girls of all races.
Instead, he’s zipping uptown followed by that nutjob Robert Monday (Shannon), who’s trying to kill him. At one point Wilee gets a smartphone photo of the dude’s license plate and takes it to the nearest police station to register a complaint. And who walks in? Monday. He’s a cop. A detective. He’s got a gambling addiction. Another flashback. He’s playing Mah jong in Chinatown and losing bad and owing big. Nima’s ticket represents $50,000. Some Chinese dude tells him about it. How does the Chinese dude know? Do we ever find out?
Soon both Monday and a bike cop (Christopher Place), who must be the fastest bike cop in the world, are racing after Wilee, but our hero gets away using some Danny Macaskill maneuvers (stunt double: Danny Macaskill), then punks out and returns the ticket to Columbia. Not even to Nima. To the receptionist. When Nima finds out she’s distraught. Because that money? She’s been saving that money for two years, working three jobs, in order to ... wait for it ... bring her son to the United States.
In my seat I immediately deflated. The movie’s two big mysteries are: 1) a corrupt cop with a gambling addiction; and, 2) a mother and child reunion. All the fixies and tats in the world can’t make that shit seem new.
But now Wilee is ready to help. Except Monday has recalled the order to a flower shop on 28th rather than Chinatown, and Manny’s picked it up, and he refuses to listen to Wilee. But he will race him. He wants to show him up. So off they go, through Central Park.
This isn’t where the accident happens, by the way. The accident happens after Wilee, being wily, puts the ticket inside his bike handlebars for safe keeping, then comes to a red light that allows no Sherlockian safe path. Boom. Crash. Dead? No. Cracked ribs. Monday rides with him in the ambulance and basically tortures him to get information. Oddly, Wilee doesn’t send him across town. He sends him to the exact spot he sent Vanessa, the police impound lot, where, cracked ribs and all, Wilee grabs another bike and gets away using some serious Danny Macaskill maneuvers (stunt double: Danny Macaskill), and then, in the magic-hour light, on the bike cop’s bike, rides to the Chinatown restaurant.
Monday is there waiting for him, boiling with frustration, while the Chinese flee inside like it’s a remake of “High Noon.” Who doesn’t flee? Bike messengers, dude. They take their tats and dreds and gnarly rides to that same spot, yo, and mess with Monday. But the final blow comes from the gun of a Chinese gangster. Shannon gives us a nice death scene here—it almost makes up for some of his earlier scene-chewing—and Wilee is able to deliver the ticket in time, at 6:59 PM, or 26 minutes after the crash. We should all pack our half-hours with such activity.
David Koepp, best known as a screenwriter (“Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Spider-Man”), tends to direct, when he directs, the forgettable movies of established stars: “Ghost Town” with Ricky Gervais in 2008; “Secret Window” with Johnny Depp in 2004; “Stir of Echoes” with Kevin Bacon in 1999. Add Joseph Gordon-Levitt and whatever the hell this movie is called.