PlotPremium Rush stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee, a law school graduate who has decided he would rather be a bicycle messenger than a lawyer. As a bicycle messenger, he flies around New York City on his bike, weaving in and out of traffic to deliver packages. In so doing, he competes with other bicycle messengers for assignments, which is how they get paid. He has recently run into a rough spot with his girlfriend, who is also a messenger, because she sees him as irresponsible for not becoming a lawyer and because he rides recklessly. He doesn’t even have brakes on his bike.
At this point, the story flashes back, a technique which will be used repeatedly to tell the story in a slightly non-chronological manner. Through the flashbacks, we learn that the package belongs to Mina, not the school and we learn that the man is trying to steal it from her. As the chase continues, we learn that the man is Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a gambling-addicted New York Police officer with little in the way of self-control. He owes lots of money to a local loan shark named Mr. Lin. Lin tells Bobby that he can pay off all his debts if he grabs the package from Mina. This now becomes a matter of life and death to Bobby. Meanwhile, as Wilee finds out what is in the package, it becomes equally important to him to get the package where it needs to be.
Why This Film WorksLet me start with this: this film is not a hidden gem. This is not The Usual Suspects or Triangle. You aren’t going to add this film to your list of best ever films. But Premium Rush doesn’t try to be that either. What Premium Rush tries to be is simply an enjoyable film that tells an interesting story, and in that regard it succeeds completely. Indeed, this is akin to so many of the secondary movies of the 1980’s which never had a chance to be Raiders of the Lost Ark or Back to the Future, but which found good-sized audiences and have continued to be shown on television today because they were genuinely good films.
All of this results in very relatable and very interesting conflicts, which keep this film interesting in a way that something like Green Lantern simply does not. What you have here are two characters who are inherently interesting even apart from the plot. Both have things they must achieve due to flaws in their characters. Then they are put in direct conflict because of their competing missions – deliver the package versus intercept the package. At the same time, they are surrounded by obstacles. The result is to multiply our interest in the story by each of these conflicts and obstacles.
By comparison, a film like Green Lantern relies entirely on the promise of one huge fist fight to make the film pay off. They typically add some generic “need for self-improvement” in the main character to fool you into thinking the character grows, but there is no real conflict apart from the forty minutes of punching you will endure. The result is a film devoid of interesting conflicts.
So in the end, I would describe this film this way: this is a very enjoyable film that will grab and hold your interest. It is a good film and it is an excellent way to spend two hours. You won’t feel like you’ve seen the next Star Wars or Maltese Falcons, but you will be happy that you watched it. And that makes this film worthwhile.