For anyone wondering what you get when you cross bike-messenger derring-do, a dirty-cop bad guy and a ticking-clock plot line, the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie “Premium Rush” provides an answer: You get a pretty good time. Movie critics mostly agree that the film, which is directed and co-written by David Koepp and also stars Michael Shannon and Dania Ramirez, is an enjoyable end-of-summer action romp.
The Times’ own Betsy Sharkey likens “Premium Rush” to the 1994 action thriller “Speed,” but with a bicycle and an envelope subbing for the bomb-rigged bus: “Which actually doesn’t sound like it would work at all as a tightly wound slice of street action, but it does, and in radically fresh ways.” For one, Sharkey says, “The action is inventive, extensive and exciting, a bang-up job by cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen.”
The film’s two leads also hold their own. Gordon-Levitt, playing the intrepid bike messenger Wilee, has “toughened his inner core — both literally and figuratively — in a way that makes him a more formidable presence on-screen.” Shannon, as the crooked Det. Bobby Monday, emits a “towering force-field” and is “fearsome even at a distance.”
NPR’s Bob Mondello finds “Premium Rush” to be lightweight but entertaining. He writes that Koepp “doesn’t seem terribly anxious to freight any [the film] with meaning; ‘Premium Rush’ is just a fun ride.” An undercurrent of authenticity helps to distinguish the film: "[Koepp’s] New York actually looks like New York, with a largely Asian-, Hispanic-, and African-American cast. And that’s really New York they’re all careering through at breakneck speed, not some studio back lot.”
New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis calls the film “buoyant dumb-fun” and says it “provides just about all the late summer air-conditioned relief you could hope for." Dargis echoes Mondello in writing that “most of the imagery is analogue. The movie tries hard to look real." Even among the “start-to-finish clever special effects,” Dargis writes that “none [is] more clever or special than Michael Shannon.” His “volatile menace” and Gordon-Levitt’s “innate appeal” propel the film.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times calls the film “an impressively skilled production” that is “never less than convincing.” He adds, “You’re looking for depth and profundity, this is the wrong movie. But under the direction of David Koepp … this is an expert and spellbinding adventure.” It goes to show that “any action formula can be brought to life with enough imagination and energy.”
Among the film’s detractors is the Boston Globe’s Mark Feeney, who suggests the film would have benefitted from slowing down once in a while. “ ‘Premium Rush’ has a lot of energy — too much, it’s kind of exhausting,” he writes. He goes on to say the film “lasts 85 minutes — and by the 40-minute mark you may be sucking wind harder than Wilee ever does. The story needs room to breathe. For whatever reasons, Koepp doesn’t give it any.”
Still, Gordon-Levitt and his pedal-to-the-metal alter ego can take heart. Every good bike messenger knows you can’t help but hit a few potholes.