Let me count the ways in which bike chases in movies are more elegant than car chases.
First, the noise a bicycle makes is minimal, but whooshing; think a hummingbird mixed with a mosquito. No revving engines required. Second, usually the bike rider (in the movies at least) is a sweating mass of muscle which both male and female viewers can appreciate. And third, a bike can go where cars can’t; say, on top of other cars.
That said, with Premium Rush, writer/director David Koepp (who wrote Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible and the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man) brings forward an eloquent tribute to ’80s car chase movies with its own spin (literally). Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his most physically demanding role yet, the movie is an adrenaline high from beginning to end. With Mitchell Amundsen (Pearl Harbor, The Bourne Supremacy) as cinematographer, New York is a GPS map, a labyrinth, and overall, not a very pleasant city to drive in.
Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) is a New York bike messenger sent on a job to deliver a “ticket” somewhere in Chinatown, only to be chased by a scumbag corrupt cop named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon, nailing the role Ray Liotta defined over the years). What Wilee doesn’t know is that Monday has some business to resolve with the Chinese mob, and that his own life may be at risk just because he’s doing what he’s supposed to do.
The movie takes place, essentially, over one really busy afternoon in the busiest city on the planet. The whole motivation is “Will Wilee make it on time and will he come out of this alive?” and it’s enough to keep you in your seat.
Like Drive last year, Premium Rush will have viewers and critics split. It’s not a typical blockbuster, but it has its dose of cheesiness. The love triangle between Wilee and two of his bike messenger colleagues, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and Manny (Wolé Parks), could have been successfully omitted without tarnishing the film’s quality, but it is clearly there to satisfy blockbuster expectations.
On the other hand, watching Gordon-Levitt and Shannon chase each other and exchange cuss words is a pleasure of a rare kind. 2012 promises to be big for both actors (with Looper and Lincoln coming out later this year for Gordon-Levitt, and The Iceman for Shannon), and Premium Rush is a good start.
While Drive was moody and slow-paced, Premium Rush is agile and quick, but both clearly share inspiration from ’80s blockbusters, only with better actors and, well, more interesting cinematography. Let’s hope there’s more of this kind of quality action flick to come. ■
Premium Rush opens Aug. 24.