The playful, mischievous tone of “Premium Rush” doesn’t match the darker subject matter beneath the motives of its characters, but it is unexpected how thrilling the suspenseful bike chases can be. It’s also quite unrealistic. Our protagonists are beaten, bruised, and even thrown from their transports upon violently colliding with other vehicles, only to rise shortly afterwards, practically unscathed. Star Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s moniker of “Wilee” (after Wile E. Coyote) does complement the cartoonish nature of much of the film, but the more sinister elements driving the plot tend to clash with the whimsical competition that permeates the mood.
The most efficient bike messenger for a security courier, Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is physically much less convincing than his slender, toned cohorts) lives his life with reckless abandon. Speeding through the congested streets of New York City without brakes or gears, Wiley scoffs at caution and abhors the thought of ever slowing down. But when he’s commissioned to deliver a high-profile envelope worth thousands, crooked cop Robert Monday (Michael Shannon) determines to intercept the cyclist and claim the precious cargo for himself. Now, Wilee must shake both the police and his envious co-worker (Wole Parks) while attempting to patch things up with his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and deliver his valuable merchandise to its destination – all in a matter of hours.
The film works best when it is not trying to be more than a fast-paced, pleasantly nonsensical, stunt-infused race through the bustling streets of New York. The dialogue isn’t particularly amusing and the characters aren’t developed to be much beyond stereotypes and mechanisms for pushing the story along (spearheaded by Vanessa’s overbearing nosiness). But the nonstop chase, the realistic obstacles, the evasion of law enforcement, and the opponents and nemeses that arise from a seemingly prosaic profession fuels an adventure that is surprisingly exciting. And although the tone occasionally dabbles down unlikely avenues (including many that belong in an entirely different feature), the light-hearted, goofy disposition imparted on the acts of precariously dodging pedestrians, insanely bolting through traffic, and engaging in prohibited vehicular street maneuvers is recurrently entertaining.
In an attempt to be noticeably artistic, “Premium Rush” employs stylized forms of special effects and editing – essentially interference that reminds audiences that they’re watching a movie instead of becoming immersed in it. Bold lines snake across the screen to illustrate potential paths of navigation, a massive model of the city is scrutinized with the camera, panning through points at which characters are trekking, and GPS graphics are flashed onscreen; rapid zooms and slow-motion accidents round out the gimmicks designed to demonstrate uniqueness (fortunately the frame never splits into multiple panes). Predictably, however, it is the close calls, sudden confrontations, and agile feats of bombastic getaways that highlight the fun, which generously outshines the flippant peril.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)