David Koepp’s Premium Rush is one of those compact little action movies, like a junior version of Die Hard or Speed, that might once have looked like Assault on Precinct 13 or The Warriors. It certainly tries for a B-movie spirit, proudly eschewing too many digital effects (excepting some for trick shots).
It doesn’t entirely get there. Its New York City feels more like a tourist’s vision, like a sixth borough called Hollywood. And, as a screenwriter (Jurassic Park, Snake Eyes, Panic Room, Spider-Man, etc.), Koepp has stayed in business for so long thanks to his knack for high-voltage storytelling. The dialogue sounds all too written, but if spoken forcefully and with attitude, it works.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee (get it? Like Wile E. Coyote?), a bike messenger who prefers his steel machine without gears or breaks. Wilee’s day gets worse when he picks up the wrong package at the wrong time and stirs up trouble with an errant police detective, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). Gordon-Levitt is an asset to the movie, bringing something wiry and piston-like to his role. It feels as if he’s really been at it a while, rather than having simply spent a few weeks with a trainer.
Koepp the director considers speed and economy, choosing the shortest and cleverest routes to take his story to the finish line, especially when he takes his bikes into places that cars could never go. He pays ultimate tribute to B-movies when Detective Monday is required to give a phony name: “Forrest J. Ackerman.”