It’s never a good sign when a bad guy seems infinitely more interesting than the hero, but that’s the clear case with Premium Rush. The great, nicely demented Michael (Take Shelter) Shannon doesn’t so much chew the scenery away from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who tries hard to seem like a hipster bicyclist with principles; it’s that Shannon’s crooked cop seems to belong in this environment, while Gordon-Levitt’s bike messenger feels made up in Hollywood to please “the kids.”
Good intentions litter the road of this fairly decent thriller. The bicycle is a nice green alternative to exploding muscle cars — it even works as a metaphor for the freedom and the ultimate vulnerability we all experience in traffic. It’s a perfect vehicle for lo-fi thrills, too — you won’t break a Hollywood budget crashing bicycles. And then there’s writer/director David Koepp (Jurassic Park screenwriter), who has enough savvy to steal directly from Hitchcock and get away with it. Our main character is chased by both ruthless bad guys and unheeding police, and Koepp ups the ante by making them both at times the same creepy character.
Still, Premium Rush seems to be pedaling uphill in the wrong gear. Though some early scenes of Gordon-Levitt zipping through Manhattan traffic show promise, Koepp keeps gumming up the purity of his concept with fancy-shmancy CGI shots, just to keep reinforcing how wily our dull protagonist is. (He’s not.) Shannon’s runaway id is much more fun to watch, but even his bad lieutenant doesn’t make us feel the danger. Now my only concern is for the kids who think this kind of weaving through traffic would be cool to try in my neighborhood.