Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a bicycle messenger named Wile E – as in Wile E Coyote – in Premium Rush, a flashy, hyperkinetic thriller with a Looney Tune heart. “Roadrunner” would’ve made a better character name.
Wile E is constantly on the run from someone, most notably a dirty cop played by Michael Shannon. The cop’s name is Bobby Monday, but he wears the demented, determined look the coyote always has when he crawls out from under an anvil. That !@#! bird was so close that he could taste it, but it keeps on getting away.
Here is the storyline of this fractured trifle: Wile E, bicycle courier in Manhattan, gets a late-in-the-day letter to deliver, but Monday accosts him before he can get on his bike. When lying doesn’t work, the cop tries tries strong-arm bluster to get the letter. Then starts the chase that constitutes the majority of the movie.
David Koepp, who both wrote the screenplay and directed Premium Rush, scrambles time in a way that probably was meant both to keep him interested while writing this and to keep the audience from growing bored while watching. Koepp also spices it up by adding Wile E’s troubled romantic relationship with another courier and with a vain rival both for her attentions and for the title of top courier.
Further ratcheting up the action is a bicycle cop who has no clue Wile E is running for his life but is determined to but the brakes on the speedster’s wild ride. There also is a ticking clock. The envelope, the contents of which first is unknown to us, must be delivered by a certain time and placed only in the hands of a certain recipient.
Koepp is known primarily for writing the scripts for empty Hollywood thrill rides such as Jurassic Park, 2002′s Spider-Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Premium Rush feels like he has been studying the work of the late Tony Scott, who was king of the sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing school of Hollywood filmmaking.
Scott was lucky enough late in his career to hook up with Denzel Washington and smart enough to realize that the movies would have more power if he anchored them in the honesty and emotional depth the actor was capable of bringing to the roles.
Premium Rush never tries for depth any sort. It is anchored primarily by style and by Shannon’s cartoony, over-the-top performance. Nevertheless, the film improbably achieves something like emotion at the end.
Part of it may be the joy and relief that one experiences when an amusement park thrill ride is over and you step off unbloodied, but there also is another kind of satisfaction at work here – the kind that you get at the end of an involving story when all has been set right with the world.
However annoying and superficial this jumping-bean of a movie may be and however little regard I may have for the majority of Koepp’s body of work, crafting a tale that achieves this emotion at the end takes talent. I’ll give him that.