It may be August, but Summer has already passed us by in the Hollywood calendar. Gone are the $200+ million dollar tentpoles that studios plan their entire year around, now in its stead we’re getting B-Grade product intended to keep us placated until November.
Premium Rush is just that kind of movie. Sony is slotting the budget thriller into release on one of the most inactive weekends of the year, and its setting – the world of NYC Bikers – isn’t going to get it much media attention. But don’t let its doomed prospects serve as indication of its quality, Premium Rush is a modest thriller that squeezes out every thrill it can over a short hour-and-a-half run time.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, a New York City bike courier that brutally wears out his ride everyday as he aggressively jockeys up and down Manhattan. Ditching his law degree for an indefinite thrillride, Wilee scorns helmets, brakes and fixed gears for mad adrenaline rushes dodging taxis and running red lights.
But even he’s freaked out when he gets on the wrong side of expertly-named bad guy Bobby Monday, played with psychological gravitas by Michael Shannon. Shannon hacks and snickers his way into dirt-bag scene-chewing that comes close to being distracting and annoying. But Shannon, who barely acknowledges how much fun he’s having, keeps it equally evil and comedic.
Shannon’s just some of the fuel that keeps Premium Rush burning at full capacity. Gordon-Levitt is always supremely watchable, but by adding a hint of asshole to Wilee, he keeps things interesting.
Most of the credit here goes to a mercilessly tight pace that flashes back and forward between chase sequences and plot reveals so skillfully, it almost avoids ever hitting a beat. What we’re getting is a good old-fashioned stunt-based thriller that turns rush hour traffic into an American Gladiators arena, following warriors as they map out routes and jump distractions to get to the finish-line. This isn’t just a relay, it’s an obstacle course that takes itself out on every player.
Premium Rush isn’t going for anything new – other than its cast of bike hipsters and bohemians – and it’s perfectly content with being a short breeze of a chase movie. But despite those humble ambitions, it finds a lot of success with its combination of hard-biting action and Michael Shannon squeakery. Premium Rush likely had a small budget, but Studios would be wise to study its success.