Director: David Koepp
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Jamie Chung
Watch Premium Rush online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Every 10 years or so, Sight & Sound magazine (the ‘grande dame’ of film publications) asks critics, film-makers and other luminaries to help them select the greatest films of all time. The data is compiled, the numbers are crunched, and the results are published in the form of an unnervingly comprehensive breakdown of some of the most awesome artistic endeavours ever to hit the big screen.
The poll is pretty definitive. The top 10 alone reads like a must-see list of all-time greats, showcasing classic titles such as Vertigo, The Passion of Joan of Arc and La Règle du jeu. So many exemplary movies. So many wonders. But not one of them features Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulling rad wheelies while breaking out of an NYPD lock-up. Take that, Jean Renoir!
Premium Rush is an improbably joyous film. We’ll call it a film, although, in truth, it’s more of an all-round sensory experience. Tonally speaking, it’s a bit like a souped-up, frantically modern spin on the 1983 Brian Trenchard-Smith picture BMX Bandits. And if the prospect of that doesn’t get your back wheels spinning, we don’t know what will.
The aforementioned Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the man, the legend) stars as a law school drop-out called Wilee (!), who somehow manages to make the world’s most implausible living as a bicycle messenger for the world’s most implausible courier service. Honestly, it’s a like a renegade hipster version of Yodel.
Anyway, Wilee (yes, really) finds himself in the middle of a spoke-based nightmare when tasked with the delivery of a super secret envelope to a local Chinese businessman. The envelope contains an extremely valuable ticket that will pay for the safe passage of his girlfriend’s roommate’s son (keep up at the back) from China to the US. Corrupt copper/gambling addict Michael Shannon gets wind of this precarious scheme, and hatches a plot to a. intercept the package, and b. cash in the chitty for himself. Thus begins a crosstown bicycle pursuit of extreme proportions, as Wilee giddies up his gearless stallion, weaving in and out of the treacherous New York traffic to complete his perilous errand.
So, yes: Premium Rush is ridiculous. But the movie embraces its own lunacy with such verve that it’s impossible to walk away uncharmed. It’s also tremendously nerdy and earnest, like an overly enthusiastic kids’ film dressed in natty, Urban Outfitters duds. Characters go around saying adorable things, such as “I’m gonna shred the living shit out of that thing” and “Suck it, douchebag”. Basically, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a high-five.
The director is David Koepp, better known to nerds as the screenwriter who charred a million childhood memories with his malformed draft of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With Premium Rush, he’s managed to deliver a much leaner, meaner piece of work. Exhilarating, too. It’s a fast, propulsive movie, with a number of dazzling chase sequences, each one tautly steered. Extra kudos should go to the clearly very fit cast for doing so much of their own pedalling. They can’t stop. You won’t want to either.
Only time will tell whether the white knuckle, off-the-chain thrills of Premium Rush can freestyle its way to the top of Sight & Sound’s seminal cinematic census. In the meantime, ride like hell.