"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
The title of "Premium Rush" is only half-right: The rush is here, but the premium part, not so much. This bike-courier chase flick suffers from leaden acting, a too-chipper soundtrack, a too-pat plot and a script without much at all interesting to say. At least it's quick (though even at 91 minutes it feels overlong) and doesn't skimp on the bike-crash stunts. Watching this many people get almost killed in New York traffic will tire you out, but it's at least a respite from the other alleged stuff that transpires.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a Columbia Law grad who couldn't stomach the life of a suit, and fell back on his daredevil bike-trick past to make $80 on a good day zipping around Manhattan. He goes by Wilee — yes, pronounced like the coyote. Why not? "Premium Rush" sends him zig-zagging through busy intersections, leaping on two wheels over fences, clinging to buses, careening down stairs, salmoning his way against oncoming traffic and generally human-cannonballing his way through Midtown on his fixie — no gears, no brakes, steel frame, borderline death wish. This is a Looney Tune stocked with cyclists.
It also swings at and just nicks the urban cyclist subculture at its heart. Wilee's colleagues are semi-plausible as a United Colors of Benetton ad-in-waiting: a spunky Latina ladyfriend (Dania Ramirez), a dashing African-American rival who crows about his own swiftness and ample thighs (Wolé Parks), a crude-tempered dispatcher played by Bombay-born Aasif Mandvi. Together they combine to pick up and then botch a crucial delivery from "Real World" alumna Jamie Chung, who's of Korean descent but playing a Chinese immigrant because after all this is America and here anyone can grow up to be anything.
The stick in their spokes is a ruthless cop named Monday (Michael Shannon) who owes some money around town and bad wants to head off this particular delivery in order to save his own hide. Aside from Gordon-Levitt's credible turn as a cyclist, the only performance here worth remembering is Shannon's. The veteran of Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories" and "Take Shelter" brings his milk-crate jaw and water-colored blue eyes to the dark detective — he's both the hunter and the hunted. While few others among the cast have real chops, Shannon gives the air of a wounded, starving animal that wandered in and started baring its teeth.
Aside from the occasional bad word and the ubiquitous lawbreaking, "Premium Rush" gives off the sanitized vibe of a teen-age heist movie, the sort in which some misfits sneak into trouble and save the day right before the adults realize they were even gone. It's a bit darker than that, perhaps, but not much. Writer David Koepp ("Spider-Man," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") also directs, articulately enough. His sense of set-up and climax are better than his grasp of connective tissue; the entire middle of the movie depends on Wilee pushing the plot-reset button and returning the package (which gets enough of an explanation, at least, to barely avoid MacGuffin status). Then: More biking!
Could it all be smarter? Certainly. Will you get see more cyclists crash into cars, garbage cans, pedestrians, or other dangerous objects this year? Not without actually visiting New York.