Writer/director David Koepp's previous efforts as a screenwriter have helped define modern blockbuster movies. Jurassic Park Mission: Impossible Spider-Man — films that put the "big" in big screen. As a director he's taken the same sensibilities and applied them to narrower fields of vision with intimate spins on horror and comedy in movies like Secret Window and Ghost Town. His latest Premium Rush fits the same bill; an immersive chase thriller set in the off-beat world of biker culture the movie has its simple goals and executes them with a wink-wink attitude. It's a summer action movie through and through but with sensibilities that make it fresh and quirky. In the doldrums of August it's exactly the rush one needs.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee a law-student-turned-bike-messenger who lives for the thrills of a speedy ride. During one run-of-the-mill pick-up at Columbia University Wilee finds himself in the crosshairs of corrupt cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). Inside the envelope Wilee's been hired to delver to Chinatown is something Detective Monday needs and he's willing to do anything to get it. No skin off Wilee's nose — he has an address and a delivery time and like a good messenger he's equally driven to make the drop.
Premium Rush quickly kicks off its extended action set piece and never lets up Koepp only occasionally stepping back in time to unravel backstory and up the stakes. Wilee's girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) also a bike messenger is the roommate of Nima (Jamie Chung) a Chinese student who is shipping the sealed MacGuffin downtown. For her it's life or death and Koepp wisely underplays the motivations both to downplay its over-the-top nature and keep the stunts in focus. Monday has his own issues to contend with and it gives Shannon the perfect material to chew up. Before chasing Wilee Monday suffers from a gambling and violence problem and while it drives the character to pursue the package it's really just a great excuse for Shannon to go absolutely bonkers. Somewhere beyond Nic Cage and Al Pacino exists Shannon's turn and it's a hoot.
Gordon-Levitt balances him out as an engaging presence even while zipping through gridlocks and shifting his eyes for "Bike-O-Vision" (Wilee's accident-avoiding stylized Spidey sense). He spends most of his time interchanged with professional bike riders who make the two-wheeled maneuvers work but it's seamless. After an hour and a half of bikes pop-a-wheeling over taxis skidding under semi-trailer trucks and pulling off cycle parkour in a multileveled NYPD impound the action tends to get a bit repetitive — how much can you do on a bike? — but Koepp's kinetic directing keeps the movie zippy and the tone loose. Wilee's entire adventure feels like one big trick. Thankfully it avoids the crash and burn.