Sunday review: “Premium Rush” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Premium Rush.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Premium Rush.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Writer-director David Koepp’s latest film, “Premium Rush,” has been advertised with the tagline “Ride Like Hell.” This is, perhaps, to its detriment–I’m not sure high-speed bicycling  constitutes much of a box office draw in today’s cultural landscape, nor would it seem to make for a very appealing film, but, regardless, it sums up “Premium Rush” rather well. The majority of the film consists of characters simply riding their bikes really, really fast. The audience watches and cringes as they narrowly avoid cars, babies, cops, runners, and everyone else who views them, not unjustly, as menaces.

Koepp’s film does have a plot, but the particulars of it hardly matter. What does matter is that our protagonist, a bike messenger named Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, bringing the charm and likability we’ve come to expect of him), desperately needs to deliver a package and our villain, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon, who’s too good for the role), is trying to stop him. There is no subtext or deeper meaning to any of this and the movie is likely better off for it. Koepp’s main goal here appears to be breezy, slight fun and, thanks to a wholly likable cast, a breakneck pace and inspired visuals, he accomplishes it winningly.

Gordon-Levitt and Shannon are, appropriately, the standouts of the cast due to the former’s boyish sense of fun and charm and the latter’s manic charisma. The rest of the performances are reasonably competent, if not exactly compelling. That there are no obvious weak links is both impressive and essential for a movie that depends so thoroughly on the likability of its cast.

“Premium Rush” is set in New York City, which is depicted such that “Ride Through Hell” wouldn’t have been an inappropriate tagline either. It’s not a flattering depiction, but, as it’s portrayed, the city makes for a perfect obstacle course through which our characters weave, jump, coast and tumble–all on their bikes, of course. The filmmakers make the most of the setting and, with the help of special effects, ensure that the audience has a decent grip on all of the (literal) twists and turns.

The film’s action does feel a bit monotonous after a while and the less you think about the plot, the better, but, thankfully, the film does not take itself seriously in the least and it’s not asking audiences to do so either. With an estimated $6.3 million opening weekend, it appears that “Premium Rush” has yet to find the audience it deserves, but a movie this odd, original and likable is all but guaranteed a passionate following down the line.

Grade: B-

“Premium Rush” opened nationwide Friday, Aug. 24. Runtime: 91 minutes. MPAA rating: PG-13.