Joseph Gordon-Levitt Peddles Clichés in ‘Premium Rush’

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
No votes yet Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – We’re looking for cowboy heroes in America, and a new film contends that the urban bike messenger could represent that long lost persona. This unlikely theory is the basis for “Premium Rush,” and it features Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Aasif Mandvi and Dania Ramirez.

The life of a bike messenger in this film involves a parallel universe of the adrenaline junkie riding the plane, nobly following a code that is unwavering to money, authority and the laws of gravity. “Premium Rush” is riddled with archetypes like the twitchy dispatcher, the over-competitive rival, the wise old messenger and the hates-him-until-she-loves-him relationship. Actor Michael Shannon adds a bit of weirdness to the conventional story, but it’s not enough to overcome the soft narrative veneer that pretends to be high octane. It may be the first high octane film that has the ability to induce sleep.

Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is first introduced flying through the air on his way down to a kiss with the pavement. His messenger bike has just been smashed by a New York City vehicle, and he is shown in slow motion about to experience the fall. The story then reverses itself, to expose how he got in this predicament, and who is involved in it. When you live fast on the streets of NYC with no braking system, something is bound to happen. And what happens had to do with a peculiar delivery.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’
Man Versus Traffic: Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in ‘Premium Rush’
Photo credit: Sarah Shatz for Columbia Pictures

Wilee is given the assignment by his dispatcher Raj (Aasif Mandvi) to deliver an envelope from a college on one side of New York City to Chinatown on the other side, 90 minutes away. He is stopped in that pursuit by Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), who turns out to be a desperate NYC cop. He needs what is in the envelope, and chases Wilee virtually through the city. To make matters worse, Wilee is being harassed by his rival Manny (Wolé Parks), and is on the outs with his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez).

There is nothing new in this film, and it relies almost solely on Michael Shannon’s obsessive performance as the pursuing cop. He is the highlight, chewing scenery and making hay out of otherwise common dialogue. He practically attacks the words he is given, and functions as a scene stealer as the film jumps back and forth in the timeline to explain the consequences of Wilee’s epic crash. Shannon is a force of nature as a performer and proves here that he can elevate the starchiest of screenplays.

And speaking of the screenplay – by director David Koepp and John Kamps – the promotion of the bike messenger into secular saint is about as dumb as making a cowboy the same way (whoops). Okay, we need heroes, but all the bike messenger personalities are ultra-fueled and kind of phony. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Wilee is supposedly two credits away from a law degree, but chooses the adventures of the street race because “he doesn’t want to wear a suit.” The dispatcher, as practiced by Aasif Mandvi of “The Daily Show,” is the movie type – all cynical and above-it-all, until he’s called upon to make things right. It’s a more subtle take on the angry police bureaucrat who fires the heroic shot at the end. And yes, there is wise old bike messenger, who functions as a greek chorus (“take heed”) and exists so it can be pointed out that he is old and wise.

Besides Shannon, there are a few touches that generate some heat, but are separate from the golly-gee-whiz nobility of the film’s overall mission. Director Knoepp has a good eye for atmosphere, and uses some interesting parts of New York City in which to put the messengers. The use of high angle shots of the city to show the bike routes, and the point-of-view options for avoiding crashes – with strategic and illustrative arrows – were clever. Also despite the randomness of their relationship, Gordon-Levitt and newcomer Dania Ramirez had some chemistry, and worked well together when they needed to team up.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’
Recycled Romance: Wilee and Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) in ‘Premium Rush’
Photo credit: Sarah Shatz for Columbia Pictures

There was a recent short film done in Chicago called “Faster,” focusing on the adventures of a bike messenger in the city. But the main character in that scenario was a broke, frustrated day jobber who had to deal with the working class hive minders who hated their jobs as well. That is our world…not some contrived urban adventure about the noble warriors of the messenger class. No matter how romantically they are portrayed, they still are not suppose to ride on the sidewalks.

What the soundtrack needed was a song that touts the savior aspects of the bike messenger, like the cowboys. “Oh give me a home, where the pedestrians roam, where the cabs and the car doors do….LOOK OUT!”

“Premium Rush,” opens everywhere on August 24th. Featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Aasif Mandvi, Dania Ramirez, Wolé Parks and Jamie Chung.. Screenplay by David Koepp and John Kamps. Directed by David Koepp. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

ziggy one of the best's picture

"Premium Rush"

It was awesome the way they ride their bikes up and down the Big Apple. I ride my bike in Chicago and I would be scared to try the tricks those guys did!

Manny be down's picture

Premium Rush

Great movie! A lot of action. I love the way Levitt rode up and down those mean streets. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


Advertisement on Twitter

archive Top Ten Discussions