The non-stop new Premium Rush approaches pure cinema — visually daring and rarely bogged down by plot or dialogue. The premium of the title refers to the priority given to a package to be delivered, but it could easily be confused with the high of an adrenaline rush.
The fine young actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in this rush job, but he seems not to rely on his considerable acting skills but on something much tougher. That is, he spends almost the entirety of the film’s hour and a half on his bicycle, racing through Manhattan and all its frightening traffic.
Director and co-writer David Koepp has been reported as saying that around 96 percent of Premium Rush is free of computer-generated effects. Keep that in mind while watching Gordon-Levitt as he darts in and out of traffic between cars, up on sidewalks, and through narrow passageways.
Koepp even briefly tempts movie fate by filming under the city’s elevated trains, a hallowed ground ever since Gene Hackman’s mad car chase during William Friedkin’s 1971 classic The French Connection.
Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a one-time Columbia University law student who dropped out in his third year to start life anew as a thrill-seeking bike messenger. One day, he takes a job delivering an envelope from Columbia to Chinatown, and it must be delivered within the reasonable rush-hour time of an hour and a half.
But as soon as he heads south through the crowded streets, a renegade cop (Michael Shannon, playing menacingly to form) chases him down for the envelope. Meanwhile, a bike cop, for his own reasons, joins in the chase for Wilee. And to further muddy the scenario, Wilee’s girlfriend and fellow biker Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) jumps into the fray.
To these elements, Koepp adds a sinister Chinese triad and then deftly juggles all these for a consistently moving thrill ride.
Surely most if not all of Wilee’s scrapes, close calls, wrecks and bike tricks are artfully staged, but they succeed in ramping up the white-knuckle tension.
Premium Rush may be an empty package, but it is undeniably fun to watch.
Rated PG-13, 91 minutes.