Just so that there’s no confusion, let’s get it out of the way up front that Premium Rush is an incredibly stupid movie. Physics are treated like an episode of Looney Tunes, there’s nothing even approaching a theme or meaning, and everything wraps up in that impossibly perfect way that only happens in the movies. Here’s the thing though, along the way it is a hell of a lot of popcorn fun. If you can turn your brain off and/or laugh and the absurdity of the proceedings, Premium Rush bring the old school ridiculous action movie vibe of the 90s back for a victory lap. Much like an energy drink that the film sounds like it was named after, this thing will bring you to a giddy caffeine high. Even if you find yourself crashing afterwards and wondering what the hell just happened, at least those 90 minutes will be a ball.
So, what’s it all about? Well, actor-of-the-moment Joseph Gordon Levitt stars as Wilee (you know, like the coyote. They mention the connection.), a guy who we’re told repeatedly has a genius level IQ and mountains of potential, yet is a bike messenger by choice because he gets paid to ride and likes nothing more. He’s the best in the biz and doesn’t even have breaks on his wheels because he’s friggin’ crazy! One day he’s assigned a high paying job to deliver a mysterious envelope. Within minutes of sending it off, he’s confronted by a dirty cop named Bobby Monday (yes, for real and he’s played by Michael Shannon, so is therefore an awesome character). Monday is in some gambling debt and needs the envelope to save his ass. At first Wilee won’t give it up because he loves his job and takes it seriously. Then he learns that his girlfriend-on-the-rocks has a roommate who needs the envelope delivered for personal reasons. That means if he delivers it he’ll beat the bad guys and get the girl. Hmmm…I wonder if that will happen?
Premium Rush is pure giddy blockbuster trash and it works because it’s delivered by one of the kings of that particular brand of entertainment, writer/director David Koepp. You might not recognize the name, but how’s this for a resume: as a screenwriter he was responsible for Jurassic Park, Spider-man, Carlito’s Way, and Mission: Impossible; while as a director he cranked out the underrated Stir Of Echoes and Ghost Town. The man knows glossy entertainment and knows it well enough to present it with a knowing sense of humor. The tone of Premium Rush is that of a cartoon and not for a second are you supposed to take it seriously. As an experienced writer, he also tosses in a clever non-linear structure to keep the clichés fresh. Yes there are idiotic moments and conceits, but that’s a given in this genre and Koepp creates a tone that encourages you to laugh at how silly it all is. Levitt is rock solid as the lead, happy to play for laughs while also playing an empathetic straight man to the world around him. Michael Shannon is even better as the villain. No one does creepy better these days (Shannon might be on his way to becoming the next Christopher Walken) and this film proves he’s clever enough to know how to amp that persona up to get gob-smacked laughs. The supporting cast are all fine, but this thing is primarily a head-to-head battle between Levitt and Shannon and they are ideally cast in their ridiculous roles.
You will learn absolutely nothing from Premium Rush. If anything you might leave the theater with a few irrational ideas about bike travel to put into dangerous practice. But, with this kind of movie that’s a good thing. Sometimes you want to check your brain at the door before buying a ticket and simply laugh and cheer away and some ludicrously over-the-top entertainment. That’s the kind of movie that Premium Rush is and it perfectly hits those meager ambitions. It’s a shame that Koepp isn’t allowed to direct more often, but his writing duties keep him busy and when you can crank out scripts for record-breaking blockbusters, it’s probably hard to find the time to make fun little B-movies. This is a movie destined to be laughed at on 3am cable screenings and loved by trash-loving insomniacs everywhere. Don’t let that keep you from the theater though. If you’re going to see a dumb blockbuster, it may as well be one made by people fully aware of just how dumb n’ fun their flick really is.
The delightfully over the top tone and twisty script from writer/director David Koepp and the great B-movie performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon.
Well, the movie completely is completely idiotic, but what else would you expect?