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The Independent Critic

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Jamie Chung, Aasif Mandvi, Dania Ramirez
David Koepp
David Koepp, John Kamps
Rated PG-13
91 Mins.
Columbia Pictures

 "Premium Rush" Zippy but Mostly Forgettable  
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What could have been a zippy and entertaining suspense drama is instead a far too cartoonish film that has far too many stops and starts to ever really effectively build up convincing suspense. The film centers around Wilee (Coincidence? I don't think so.), a hardcore and rather maniacal bike messenger portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with far more energy and enthusiasm than the character actually deserves.

Wilee has a reputation among the New York City bike messengers as a balls to the walls messenger, a guy with a kick ass bike who doesn't believe in brakes and whose riding is both relentless and fearless. He picks up a last minute package one evening, a mysterious envelope to be delivered to a Sister Chen, and suddenly finds himself being pursued by a cop (Michael Shannon) who appears to be willing to do anything to get his hands on that envelope.

The best part of Premium Rush isn't given nearly enough attention, at least not until the film's winding down in its closing moments. Director David Koepp, at least as the film winds down, really captures the spirit and the camaraderie of these alternative living bike messengers. These are men and women of all ethnic backgrounds and ages who thumb their noses at societal conformity and live life in the fast lane more for the freedom than the incredibly modest wage. Wilee, for example, is a guy who had graduated from Columbia Law but at the last minute realized that passing the bar exam would likely leave him living a life in a gray suit sitting in a corner office.

Forget that.

Of course, all of these action flicks have to have the love story and Wilee finds himself struggling to win back the heart of Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), a beautiful fellow bike messenger whose penchant for risk-taking is considerably less than Wilee's. Manny (Wole Parks) serves as a bit of a biking rival, a man with a bit more stability who likes nothing more than to steal some time with Vanessa and occasionally snatch Wilee's jobs away from him.

There is a story in Premium Rush, and it does become at least modestly emotionally resonant. However, the real purpose of Premium Rush is the relentless thrill of watching bikes race relentlessly through the streets of New York City with an ample amount of stunts, jumps and crashes along the way. Bicyclists will likely find a ton of reasons to enjoy this film, and it's fair to say that most Gordon-Levitt fans won't leave completely disappointed.

Michael Shannon's turn as a copy who resorts to menacing bordering on psychotic behavior in order to cover his increasingly troubled tracks is sort of a Shannon-lite performance, with Shannon's goonish behavior at times being as funny as it is threatening. In fact, the best character of all other than that of Wilee may very well be a recurring bicycle cop who keeps getting bested by Wilee.

The action is at times quite suspenseful, though Koepp makes the odd choice to approach tracking the bikes with GPS-styled graphics that become monotonous and distracting. Instead of adding anything to the film, they dilute the suspense and even occasionally mute the laughs.

There's no doubt that Premium Rush is a better film because Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in it, though he can't quite raise the film above its status as a fairly typical suspense drama. Given that even the film's free promo screening was only about 2/3 full here in Indianapolis, it seems like that Premium Rush is going to deservedly be the odd film out on its opening weekend but will find a much longer life once it hits home video.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic