*** (out of four)
The makers of “Premium Rush” could have cast Bow Wow as a bike messenger and Ray Liotta as a cop, and still delivered its package, generically and according to protocol.
Thankfully, this snappy little action flick from director/co-writer David Koepp (“Ghost Town”) prefers to zig and zag. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor without the word generic in his vocabulary, plays bike messenger Wilee; ever-strange Michael Shannon jazzes up every line as Bobby Monday, a cop whose gambling debts intersect with one of Wilee’s deliveries. The demented way Shannon says, “I’m chasing a bicycle, heh!” or, explaining to a colleague why he was late, “Your wife had a lot of unusual requests,” puts more than a hint of mania into material that could sound innocently funny coming from another mouth. Shannon lets you hear the friction of a dirty officer as he slithers.
A long way from 1986’s “Quicksilver,” the bike messenger film Kevin Bacon once called a career low, “Premium Rush” provides chase sequences with plenty of momentum. Its Chinese mafia-related subplot (featuring Jamie Chung) feels borrowed from a lesser Jason Statham movie—in other words, a Jason Statham movie—and the troubled relationship between Wilee and his co-worker Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) never matters as much as it should.
A 91-minute rush needs to keep moving at all times, and “Premium Rush” falls a few clever music choices away from the propulsive fun it achieves in spots, particularly with help from the Raconteurs’ “Salute Your Solution.” Through Wilee, though, Gordon-Levitt (who suffered a nasty gash from a crash during filming) salutes the reasons anyone would want to remain in constant motion for meager pay. Head on a swivel, scanning the paved horizon, Wilee anticipates routes and possible accidents. He’s an everyman quarterback leading a team of one--a hero for those with a need to flee, whether or not anyone’s giving chase.
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