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Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in Columbia Pictures' "Premium Rush." Photo by Sarah Shatz © 2012 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Film Review: Sharrows don’t mean a thing in world of ‘Premium Rush’

An irresistible, energetic good time with its own unique spin on vehicular momentum, the expeditious human-powered thrill ride known as “Premium Rush” is one that you will never want to stop pedaling. 

If there is one staple of the action genre that audiences never get tired of, it’s the vehicle chase. No matter how many times we have seen these pursuits play out on the big screen, we cannot bring ourselves to ignore the dramatic excitement and intensity accompanying the transportation-oriented confrontations, whether it involves cars, trucks, motorcycles, helicopters, airplanes, even boats.

But who would suspect bicycles were capable of swerving into the same territory and creating their own approach to generating breakneck tension at high speeds? I, for one, didn’t know what to expect upon hearing that bikes would be the focal point here, especially because I do not recall seeing them in action whenever I went to the movies. Such a bare-bones concept, when compared to its bigger vehicular counterparts, piqued my curiosity — enough to convince me to investigate this end-of-the-summer title.

After careful deliberation, I declare “Premium Rush” an imperfect yet reliable sendoff to what has been an improvement over last year’s summer at the theaters. With an abundance of high-octane chases powered by human reflexes instead of octane and an above average cast to propel the action, this film delivers the goods with audacious efficiency.

A New York City bicycle messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is tasked with picking up an envelope from Columbia University and delivering it to its target recipient in Chinatown before 7 p.m. What should be a walk in the park for him changes in an instant when a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) pursues him on a high-speed chase through the streets of Manhattan in an attempt to acquire the envelope. Now the cyclist has no choice but to engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse to evade his adversary, all the while trying to figure out what could be inside the envelope.

For someone who has spent the majority of his career writing screenplays for noteworthy productions while scoring an unpredictable number of box office points in the director’s chair, David Koepp succeeds in designing what turns out to be an enjoyable 91 minutes’ worth of realistic escapism for the audiences.

The director’s combined use of a first-person camera perspective and a vibrant array of bicycle stunts personally performed by Gordon-Levitt places us in the center of the Manhattan set pieces, enabling us to feel as if we are actually dodging incoming traffic and weaving in between crowds of bystanders on a busy day. Every move the actor executes while riding his bike to is more than guaranteed to put any pedestrian’s biking skills to shame; I certainly felt that effect, and I still do now.

And before I forget, I like how Koepp utilizes a digital clock to establish a nonlinear narrative in order to explore the different storylines of the main characters, thereby justifying their existence and maintaining a constant atmosphere of suspense. However, I advise you pay close attention to the details; if you do not, it could be difficult to understand certain events that transpire throughout the plot.

Another of the film’s high points is the time it devotes to developing the omnipresent bicycle culture of our nation’s most populous city. I should consider bike messengers to be a public nuisance, given their tendency to cause public disturbances on city sidewalks and streets. That being said, the film makes no attempt to hide the passerby’s annoyance at the dangers the cyclists’ antics pose.

Yet after seeing the risks they have to undertake on a daily basis to carry out their line-of-work and the exhilaration they feel while riding their bicycles, I feel as if I am one step closer to understanding their reasons for doing what they do.

The light-hearted camaraderie shared among the cyclists seen in the film, both friendly and rival, brings a humanity to a story that could have been hollow without the inclusion of that element. Despite the boundaries they push and the public safety laws they skirt to fulfill their responsibilities, they are still people nonetheless.

Furthermore, the cast of “Premium Rush” upholds the “we deliver” motto.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserves a round of applause for risking his neck out there to do what needed to be done as the reckless but well-intentioned Wilee. If this film proves anything about him, it’s that his career faces a bright future.

Michael Shannon proves to be equally compelling as the persistent Bobby Monday, the corrupt cop who will do whatever he has to so that he is the one possessing the envelope. I was not expecting to see Dania Ramirez again after her so-so performance in “X-Men: The Last Stand,” but she acclimates her urban surroundings quite well as the resilient girlfriend of Gordon-Levitt’s character who also works as a fellow bike messenger. Jamie Chung finds modest redemption here after her unimpressive stint in Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” back in 2011, yet I could not help but shake my head during her scenes in which she speaks with an Asian accent that feels stereotypical rather than genuine.

If you desire an action-packed good time that delivers what it promised to deliver from the get-go, then “Premium Rush” is the service I recommend you utilize.

3.5 out of 4

“Premium Rush”

Where: Wide release

When: Now playing

Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes

Rated: PG-13