David Koepp has put together an impressive list of screenplays since his career began in the late 1980s. Here is a sampling: “Toy Soldiers,” “Jurassic Park,” “Carilto’s Way,” “Mission Impossible,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2,” “Panic Room,” “Spider-Man,” “Stir of Echoes” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
For his latest effort, he co-writes and directs what could be a two-wheeled version of “Fast and Furious.” It’s called “Premium Rush” and it features one of the busiest actors of the year: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
At its core, “Premium Rush” is ludicrous, but a lot of fun. If you do not get caught up in the faulty logistics, you will have a good time.
To begin with, you have to accept without question that there still is a market out there for bicycle messengers in New York. In a voice-over by the lead character Wilee (Gordon-Levitt), it is noted that despite Fed Ex, faxes and other electronic ways to dispatch material, New York is still a beehive of cyclists zooming in and out of traffic, delivering various parcels.
So okay. Next, do not dwell upon the idea that with all these bicyclists trying to share limited street space with thousands of vehicles, the attrition rate of these riders via injury and death should be astronomical.
Koepp’s script, written in collaboration with John Kamps, opens with Wilee where you would expect him to be — laid out on the street after a spectacular entanglement with a car. How he got to this point is then retraced via flashbacks.
Wilee is something of a superstar and oddball in the world of bicycle messengers. Shunning the sophisticated two-wheeled machinery available, he prefers a fixed-gear bike with no brakes. He is a wizard — he can ride his bike anywhere, and in a really hard concept to swallow, he supposedly, in a split second as he zips toward a sudden obstacle, can foresee which options will lead to disaster and which ones will not and negotiate through it unscathed.
Another quirk of Wilee is that he is graduated from law school, but the idea of being desk-bound horrifies him.
Late one day he is dispatched for a quick run to deliver a small envelope to the Chinatown area of New York. He picks up the envelope at a local university from a skittish woman named Nima (Jamie Chung). But before he can get started on his delivery, he is stopped by a man claiming to work at the university who asks for the envelope back, as it is not supposed to be delivered. Wilee, however, adheres to the policy that once he takes possession of the parcel he is to give it to nobody except the intended recipient. So off he goes.
But the man proves persistent. It turns out the man actually is an NYPD detective named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). As part of the flashbacks, viewers find out why Monday is so desperate to claim the envelope. Let’s just say that Bobby Monday is no Joe Friday.
The beauty of “Premium Rush” is in the incredible action scenes of Wilee barreling along the streets of New York with near miss after near miss. These scenes had to be carefully choreographed and are masterful.
After dodging potential disasters with Monday hot on his tail, Wilee decides to return the envelope to Nima. But it turns out Nima is sharing an apartment with Wilee’s girlfriend — and fellow bicycle messenger — Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), who suspects Nima is in some sort of trouble, hence the need to have the envelope delivered. She joins up with Wilee after he learns how desperate Nima is and opts to make the delivery.
Meanwhile, the envelope delivery has been reassigned to Manny (Wole Parks), a professional rival of Wilee’s who also has designs on Vanessa. Wilee learns that Monday has managed to have the delivery address changed so it will be brought to him, so now Wilee and Vanessa have to catch up with Manny and stop him — and Manny is not intending to slow down, no way.
This is a very physical role for Gordon-Levitt, who was featured earlier this summer as Blake, the police officer who knows Batman’s true identity in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Later he will be seen opposite Bruce Willis in the sci-fi thriller “Loopers.”
There is very little character development here and the only actor who really gets to stretch dramatically is Shannon. As one fellow reviewer noted, Shannon seems heir apparent to taking on roles of crazed men that used to be a staple of Christopher Walken. Shannon has proven he can portray a sympathetic character like Curtis in “Take Shelter,” a man driven crazy by apocalyptic visions, or David Karnes in “World Trade Center,” who helps free the Port Authority officers buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers on 9-11. But he also nails crazed or fanatical individuals like the man obsessed with bugs attacking him in “Bug,” or the wildly hypocritical Agent Nelson Van Alden in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.”
“Premium Rush” is a rush, an energetic film that just asks viewers to sit back and enjoy a thrill ride.