|In “Premium Rush,” an everyday routine turns deadly when a corrupt cop tries to intersect an envelope that’s been handed over to a bicycle delivery courier.
It’s not your typical Hollywood cops ’n’ robbers setup, that’s for sure.
“I’m chasin’ a bicycle,” the cop (Michael Shannon) seethes in disbelief, as his sedan struggles to keep up with the zigs and zags of the cyclist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) through congested New York City traffic.
What’s in that envelope?
Be patient: It takes a little while for the audience, and the characters, to find out.
And even then, it takes a while longer to connect the mysterious piece of paper inside to a bigger story.
Part of the rush of “Premium Rush” is the feeling that you’re solving the puzzle along with the characters.
The audience naturally roots for Gordon-Levitt as Wilee, the pursued courier. He’s a plucky young college dropout who loves his steel-framed bike, can’t ever imagine himself in a gig that would require wearing a suit and tie, and takes so many chances – like speeding along without brakes – that his fellow-messenger girlfriend (Dania Ramirez) thinks he’s nuts.
But the real scene-stealer is Michael Shannon as the crooked cop, who’s obviously got some problems he’s been able to conceal from his fellow officers – and who’ll do whatever necessary to get what’s inside that envelope.
And once Wilee understands why that piece of paper is so valuable, he’ll do whatever he can to keep the cop from getting his dirty hands on it.
There are several other supporting characters necessary to the story, but none of them becomes more of an audience favorite than the unsuspecting good-guy NYPD bicycle cop who repeatedly gets scuffed up in his vigorous chases after Wilee.
You really feel sorry for the guy, played by professional movie stuntman Christopher Place (who’s taken the fall for stars in numerous other movies, including “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Tower Heist,” “Captain America” and “21 Jump Street”).
Director-writer David Koepp uses a variety of innovative techniques, including flashbacks that peel the story away one tantalizing layer at a time, sweeping zoom-ins and zoom-outs of a 3-D map of Manhattan, and alternative routes through dangerous traffic situations as seen through Wilee’s point of view as he processes several scenarios in slow-mo to find the one that won’t injure or kill him.
A lot of movies have been filmed on location in New York, but you’ve got to give some special props to a “Premium Rush” in that department.
Staging its bicycle chase scenes throughout various bustling New York locations had to require some formidable logistics – not to mention a good deal of peril – for cast and crew.
Stick around for the credits and you’ll see just how real and perilous the filming could be. A brief bit of docu-footage shows Gordon-Levitt, his bloody forearm and the smashed rear window of the taxicab into which he smashed – when the cab stopped and he didn’t – while shooting a scene.
“Premium Rush” won’t win any awards, but it’s a well-made “little” movie that whisks along briskly, doesn’t waste much time on side trips, and gives viewers a gritty crash course in what it’s like to be a bike messenger in New York City – on a day when a normally fast-paced job abruptly shifts into dangerous hyper-speed.
And maybe it was just my imagination, but I could swear I walked out of the theater feeling like my own legs had turned to rubber after 90 minutes of vicarious peddling all over the Big Apple.