Nothing screams “insanity” like speeding through the traffic-clogged streets of Manhattan on a bike without brakes. Yet that is exactly what bike courier Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) does on a daily basis. He, along with his fellow riders, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and Manny (Wolé Parks), believes that getting packages delivered and doing it at full tilt is what the job is all about.
However, the real insanity begins when Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) gets wind of an envelope Wilee has in his pouch. Bobby’s been attempting to supplement his NYPD paycheck with some gambling after hours. Unfortunately he has failed miserably and now is wallowing in debt to a group of Chinese mobsters who don’t believe in involving New York City’s justice system when it comes to taking care of insolvent delinquents. Inside that simple white sleeve is the answer to all of Bobby’s financial woes—if he can just get his hands on it.
Although Shannon’s overblown portrayal of a dirty cop often flirts with the comical, it does so in a way that feels appropriately nasty for a summer action flick aimed at audiences looking for thrills over substance. Premium Rush is a chase movie pure and simple. All that careening down the roadway leaves very little time for character development. But who cares if Wilee would rather risk road rash than take the bar exam after finishing law school? Viewers just want to see him ride.
All those spinning spokes leave little time for any face-to-face contact between characters as well. Both Wilee and Manny, however, manage a lip lock with Vanessa. Other physical encounters are of a more brutal nature, involving inappropriately applied police force resulting in bloody injuries and death, vicious beatings, weapon use and vehicular collisions in which riders and pedestrians don’t fare well. And profanities (including a strong sexual expletive, crude hand gestures and scatological slang) are as pervasive as car exhaust fumes in a downtown traffic jam.
Still despite the regular citizen’s disdain for these seemingly foolhardy messengers that bolt out of alleys and hurtle through traffic, Director and Screenwriter David Koepp (Angels & Demons, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible) fashions the story in such a way as to justify the couriers’ extreme antics, even if only barely. However, reenacting these stunts on real city streets is best left to professionals.