‘Premium Rush’? Not so much

Reeling It In
This film image shows Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a scene from “Premium Rush.”

“Premium Rush”


Columbia Pictures

1 hour, 31 minutes

When I gave my wife the verdict on this weekend’s NYC bike messenger thriller, “Premium Rush,” she gave me that look I know so well, the one that says, “Why are you surprised? I knew it would be bad. Everyone knew it would be bad. It’s a bike messenger thriller.” 

I know, I know. She’s right, but I can’t help but be hopeful. I have to think, maybe there’s something they’re not telling us, something the trailer didn’t let on, some hidden depth buried within the woefully limiting description “bike messenger thriller.” I mean, the studio bankrolled it, right? They’re not in the business of losing money, right? 

Wrong. “Premium Rush” is bad. So, so bad. So bad it would have been funny, had I not been the only one in the theater. You can’t really shout out quips to yourself.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a very good actor under normal situations, is Wiley. While Wiley is an actual name that people have, people in our hero’s world see this moniker as strange and crazy, immediately latching on to a popular cartoon character. “Wile-E? Oh man, you crazy! Like the coyote, right!? Ha ha ha ha!!” 

Wiley is a bike messenger. This is a sacred calling, only for hard-core bike enthusiasts, ex-stunt riders, and those with suicidal tendencies. Riding a bike around the city. Delivering packages. It’s a rush! Premium rush! Wiley is addicted to the danger and excitement that goes along with dodging cars in traffic and avoiding the mountain-bike-bound NYPD who are just out to hassle him. He rides an older street bike, made of metal instead of lightweight polycarbonite, and without the benefits of gears, or more importantly, brakes. “The bike wants to go fast. That’s how it’s made. Things only get dangerous when you slow down,” he breathlessly tells his concerned paramour over drinks at a bike party where he’s about to be crowned super awesome bike guy of the year, or some such nonsense.

The plot of “Rush” revolves around a corrupt cop, Chinese smugglers, and a ticket stub worth tens of thousands of dollars, with poor Wiley stuck in the middle. The plot structure, one of the only half-way clever elements of the film, jumps around from past to present, only gradually revealing the ins and outs and whys behind each crazy situation our hero finds himself in. 

I say half-way clever, because the technique is also pretty obnoxious, played out with swooshing camera effects, irritating floating graphics, and terribly inept dialogue. When Nima, a desperate young Chinese student, sends the ticket to be delivered, she uses Wiley, because it’s said that he’s the best. She neglects to tell Wiley, however, of the deranged detective who wants the ticket to settle gambling debts of his own, setting off a chase that winds all over the city — or at least as much of the city as you could reasonably get to on a bike with no gears and no brakes. When Wiley discovers the toxic cargo he’s carrying, he ditches it, passing it off to another rider, his arch-rival Manny. However, a tearful confrontation with Nima reignites Wiley’s chivalrous flame, and he’s off on another pointless race to catch Manny before he can inadvertently deliver the ticket into the wrong hands.

One of the most awkward parts of “Premium Rush” are the many conversations that take place while the characters are astride a bike. This is bad blocking — the actor is out of breath, legs pumping away, with cars whizzing by, while he or she are trying desperately to emote. If this weren’t bad enough, most of these conversations take place via cell phone, over those irritating little blue-tooth phones, or hands-free devices. So now, this unfortunate and difficult dialogue is delivered not to another character, but to the open air. 

Gordon-Levitt is all over the map, acting-wise. He’s giddy one moment, angry and sulky the next. Worse though, is our bad guy, Detective Monday. Monday, played by another respected up-and-coming actor Michael Shannon, is nothing less than bizarre. And not good bizarre, like pre-action hero Nicolas Cage, but bad bizarre, like the-director-didn’t-give-me-any-direction-so-I’m-just-going-to-wing-it school of acting. Shannon can’t seem to decide if this is a comedy or a thriller, and ends up creating what is possibly the most ineffectual villain of all time. Almost every altercation between Monday and Wiley ends with the latter leaping on his bike like a 12-year-old paperboy and the former throwing his hands up, declaring “Aww geez!” This is high quality action. Premium action!

“Premium Rush” is a laughably bad movie. Almost never offensive, but almost always lame. Director David Koepp has made a couple of mid-level quality films, including the Ricky Gervais/Greg Kinnear comedy “Ghost Town,” as well has having written some of the best movies of the 1990s, including “Mission Impossible” and “Jurassic Park.” I really don’t know what happened here, though maybe an experienced Hollywood guy like Koepp should have run the pitch past his wife before spending millions of dollars and months of his life on this project. “It’s a bike messenger thriller? Really?” 

Grade: D

“Premium Rush” is rated PG-13 for language and violence.


Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.