Bike messengers are jerks.
Wilee lives fast and rides faster. He never hits the brakes. Literally. As in, he’s removed them from his bike because he rides with the insane notion that somehow having handlebar brakes are lethal.
Or something like that.
The point is, he zooms all over Manhattan with little regard to life and/or limb (his or anyone else’s), despite having a once-promising future as a lawyer. He’s content to deliver packages across town, relishing the rush of riding at a breakneck pace.
However, if his reckless riding doesn’t kill him, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a corrupt NYPD detective just might. Monday wants the envelope that Wilee has been commissioned to deliver across town no later than 7 p.m. on the dot. The contents are cryptically important to Nima (Jamie Chung), who commissions the delivery, but Monday wants to get his greedy mitts on it to help him get out of a heap of debt owed to the Chinese mafia.
And that’s pretty much it. There’s the revelation of why Nima needs the delivery made, but otherwise there’s almost nothing else to the plot. Wilee has a rivalry with a fellow messenger and he’s trying to suss things out with his messenger girlfriend, but those have little bearing on the overall plot and barely register with Wilee. Remove those bits from the story and very little is affected. Koepp makes a noble attempt at infusing character moments into this, but none of it really resonates.
So what makes this a movie worth watching? Michael Shannon, for one thing.
Chewing his lines with a thick “NEW YAWWWWK” accent, Shannon cranks up the crazy to “11” and delivers a performance that belongs on the shelf right alongside the best wide-eyed insanity delivered by Willem Dafoe. Shannon knows precisely how broad he needs to go here (as does the script, which has his character squawk in amazement, “I’m chasin’ a kid on a bike!” at about the precise time that the audience also realizes how silly this whole thing is going to be).
With as much delight as Shannon takes in dialing up the smirking sleaziness of Monday, Koepp takes an equal amount of delight in shooting the chase sequences.
Good chase scenes feel far too rare these days. Directors seem to have little idea of how to create a good sense of speed while also establishing the geography of the chase. Koepp, however, has crafted what are easily some of the best chase sequences of the year, not only providing an amazing sense of speed (no easy feat considering our heroes pedal bikes the entire time), but also incorporating some truly incredible bike-bound stunts.
Koepp also gets points for providing a wonderful sense of place. Far too often films settle for filming exteriors via second unit in a city like New York while everything else is shot on a stage in LA or Toronto. Not so here where every inch was shot on-location in the city. It gives the proceedings some-much needed personality and Koepp uses the feel and tempo of the city to his advantage, helping to propel an already breakneck-paced film further. It reminded me a lot of “Die Hard: With A Vengeance,” another chase movie that expertly used the city to its benefit.
This might have been more admissible if these points had been remotely interesting, but most of them are decidedly, often threatening to derail the entire affair to the point where this 90 minute movie feels at least 15 minutes longer.
Thankfully, every time the movie skids close to being a bore, Koepp picks up the pace and puts it back on track.
“Premium Rush” is more or less indicative of your end-of-summer fare. It’s decent fun while it lasts but is hardly worth a primetime ticket purchase. It’s perfect Redbox fodder.
Note: I’d normally give it a “C,” but Michael Shannon is just too preposterously entertaining in this that I almost have to give it a higher grade.