A wild ride

‘Premium Rush’ great fit for bike-obsessed Durango
by Willie Krischke

“Premium Rush” might just be the perfect summer movie for this bicycle-crazy town. Though it’s set in the big city, our hero (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a classic Durangatang; fresh out of law school, he hasn’t taken the bar exam yet, and maybe never will, because he can’t imagine spending the rest of his life wearing a tie and sitting behind a desk. (Truly, he’s maybe a year away from moving to a small mountain town and sleeping in his kayak.)  Until then, he works as a bike messenger navigating the streets of NYC on a steel-framed, no brakes fixie.  Seriously – can you get more Durango than that?

I’ve done my share of honking and, um, finger-pointing at rude and risky cyclists around here, but I’ve never seen anything like the stunts these big city cyclists pull. They’re all over the place, weaving in and out of crowds, slipping between big trucks with inches to spare, and even in the front and out the back of convenience stores, basically making a menace and a nuisance of themselves in order to get the package delivered on time. They live at a fast pace, but I’m guessing it’s not just the speed that keeps them riding; it’s the danger. They’re always a half second away from killing themselves or someone else with the way they ride. It’s fun to watch, but I’m glad they don’t live here.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is given a package at uptown Columbia University with instructions to deliver it to Chinatown in two hours’ time. He’s ignorant of what’s inside, and for that matter, doesn’t really care. But Michael Shannon, NYPD, knows that the envelope he’s carrying is worth a lot of money to someone to whom Shannon happens to owe a lot of money.  And so begins the chase, and here’s the great thing about “Premium Rush” – it’s almost entirely chase. This is a high-octane, adrenaline-pumping action flick full of near misses, close calls, spectacular stunts and daring deeds. As far as I can tell, there’s almost no CGI. There are no explosions, no sheets of shattering glass, no alien robots, no rapid-fire machine guns, and no roided-out AARP members. It’s old school action, exciting and stylish, visceral and breathtaking.  
Director David Koepp keeps things snappy, sometimes rolling back the clock at crucial moments (the film moments with Gordon-Levitt in mid-air, just hit by a car, about to hit the pavement) to show how we got there. He also employs a video-gamish device where he stops time and shows us three alternate routs the cyclist might take: two crashing into baby strollers, UPS guys, or other deadly obstacles, and one through to safety. It’s a nifty trick, even if it takes us out of the action for crucial seconds.  
Gordon-Levitt is aided by his girlfriend, Dania Ramirez, who’s mad at him for skipping her graduation, but not mad enough to stand by and watch him get killed by a crazy cop. Rival cyclist Wole Parks alternately helps and hinders Gordon-Levitt, though he’s mostly clueless through it all; he’s just trying to move in on Ramirez and show that he’s the better, faster, riskier rider. (“Have you seen my thighs?” he shouts at one point.)  
Admittedly, the stakes are low here. Nobody’s trying to save the world in “Premium Rush,” the soul of the city isn’t at stake. In fact, when the film slows down to explain what’s in the envelope and why it’s important that it get to the right place, I got a little restless. I guess for some people, the stakes matter. But for me, with a film like this, I’d rather not know. Is it really important? One man wants it, another man has it. I’m here to be entertained. Let the games begin.   
Michael Shannon is easily the best, most entertaining villain of the summer. He’s quickly earning a reputation as one of the best actors working, but I’m starting to notice a pattern: he’s great at playing all kinds of crazy. From his quick and powerful turn in “Revolutionary Road” through last year’s quiet storm in “Take Shelter” and onto this crackpot cop, he’s tried on different shades, tones and flavors of mental instability, and made them all imminently watchable. I wish there was another “Batman” coming just so he could be the villain. He’d make a great Riddler.
The film is great right up until its climactic scene, which promises to deliver, and then, strangely, doesn’t make much sense or seem all that exciting. But it comes and goes pretty quick, so it doesn’t matter much. In fact, it’s hard to say that “Premium Rush” matters much, but that’s OK. It makes up for its lack of importance with a great sense of style and plenty of thrilling moments.  
This is the time of the summer when movie studios dump their disappointments, and “Premium Rush” didn’t make much of a splash at the box office. But if you’re like me and you’re growing weary of big, ponderous, “important” summer blockbusters, you’ll find a welcome antidote in “Premium Rush.” It’s a simple film, a well-executed genre exercise, but like that fixie that Gordon-Levitt rides, it’s stripped down to the bare essentials so that it can fly at exhilarating speeds. “Premium Rush” is one hell of a ride, and a lot more fun than the Pro Classic turned out to be. This the best movie I’ve seen this summer since “The Avengers.” Don’t miss it.