Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is a bike messenger living for the thrill of navigating New York City traffic to transport documents too important to be digitally delivered. His mantra is simple, “Fixed gear, steel frame, no break. Can’t stop; don’t want to.” His rival, Manny (Wolé Parks), and ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) see Wilee as reckless and lucky he hasn’t found himself in the donor ward. However, when Wilee is called in to deliver a puzzling laundry ticket to Chinatown it is up to his cycling skills and good luck to get past NYPD Detective Robert Monday (Michael Shannon) and deliver the item before time runs out.
Michael Shannon makes this movie. Tweaking between pathetic and depressing, Shannon gives a performance that allows for audiences to occasionally feel sympathetic for this cliché NYPD crooked cop. He is particularly brilliant in a scene where two hired hands knock Monday’s tooth out. At first he accepted the beating for a debt he owed but upon realizing his missing tooth, Monday rises and dwarfs his assailants as he returns their kindness with his boot. Shannon electrifies the scene with his darting eyes and all too confident proclamation that he is a cop, which makes him untouchable.
The back and forth between Wilee and Monday is what keeps an audience focused on the film and not nudging one another for the time. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes this film suffers from feeling so much longer, and the ticking clocks that never seem to go anywhere are really to blame for this. The movie begins at 6:33pm and proceeds to jump backwards and forwards throughout the day, with many scenes losing their excitement because we see the characters survive until a later time than when set piece is currently taking place. Making the car chase seem like a workout rather than a life or death situation. It’s easy to forget when or even if there is an actual deadline for this delivery.
Various camera techniques take away from the excitement as much as they add to it. When Wilee finds himself at an accident impasse time slows down and an exact route is drawn on the road to show what happens if he chooses that option. These tend to come in threes with two resulting in accidents and one getting him through unscathed. Tracking shots do well to capture the chase scenes without relying on a shaky camera to create tension. There is a beautiful POV shot from a bike that is only used once in the film as Wilee and Vanessa duck down an alley though it only lasts for about three seconds.
The real annoying thing about Premium Rush though, is the gratuitous product placement. This practice has been used in films as long as they have been around but their success (to movie-going audiences) comes from its subtlety. Twice we are forced to watch Wilee pull out his smart phone and look up directions on his map app and, like Cash Cab, the route is drawn out from point A to point B, providing a visual that adds nothing to what’s happening on screen.
Armed with a solid cast and exciting premise Premium Rush isn’t focused enough to keep audiences captivated. The many subplots that aren’t that interesting distract from the scenes with JGL and Shannon. And the question that lingers with you as you exit the theatre is the same one Monday asks Wilee regarding his devotion to the delivery: “What’s it to you?”