Premium Rush

****1/2  Director: David Koepp
Release Date: August 24, 2012

Can a film with a super contrived plot, no nudity, and cardboard characters still be entertaining?  Well, if you love films, bikes and summer matinees the answer is an overwhelming yes!

Writer/Director David Koepp (writer/War of the Worlds) plays it at street level with this tale of  Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), New York City’s number one bike courier who, on his brakeless fixed gear bicycle, careens through the streets of Manhattan with nothing more than guts, a handheld GPS and speed.  A lot of speed.  So much speed that his cycling prowess carries most of the movie even when things pass the point of ridiculous, but  you’re never bored.

The story is a simple one.  Our roadrunner friend, in spite of disregard for traffic rules, and authority in general, does maintain a semblance of integrity when after accepting an envelope for delivery says to the bad guy, (Michael Shannon) who wants the envelope back- “ Once the envelope goes into the bag, it’s gotta stay in the bag”.  As it turns out this bad guy is a New York City detective who needs the contents of the envelope to settle his gambling debts in Chinatown.  And dude’s not taking “no” for an answer.  So begins our tale of cat, mouse and bikes.

Imagine you’re Wilee.  You can’t ask for help from the cops because corrupt bad guy detective has the entire force gunning for you.  You can’t ask for help from the number two courier, Tito, (Wolé Parks) because you have an ongoing rivalry with him.  Maybe you ask your girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) for help?  Well, she’s a courier too, and she’s not so happy with you.  So what do you do?  You ride like hell!

Yes, the film in general is an excuse for a roller coaster ride of timeline distortions (flashback/flashforwards) CGI, general bike shenanigans—jumps, slips, spills— it really is one long suspension of disbelief.  But Premium Rush does try for redemption as contrived as it may be.   You see, the envelope that Wilee is carrying doesn’t involve money or drugs.  Let’s just say our hero is on an errand of mercy, and like any good summer matinee hero, he might be wild, he might be reckless, but he’s always looking to do the right thing.

Does Premium Rush take the bike genre to a new level?  No, it’s a far cry from the quintessential bike film, The Bicycle Thief (1948) or even from Quicksilver (1986).   But Levitt does deliver what the title promises-—speed.  Lot’s and lots of speed.  In short, it is a premium rush.

Other noteworthy (feature) bicycle films:
Breaking Away (1979)
American Flyers (1985)

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