"Brakes are death," proclaims protagonist Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 500 Days of Summer) in a flashback sequence towards the end of "Premium Rush". David Koepp ("Ghost Town"), who both directed and wrote the movie, would have been wise to take this advice. For a film that promises a nonstop adrenaline-filled thrill ride, "Rush" inexplicably hits the brakes at all the wrong times. And while the result fortunately isn't death as Wilee says, what we are left with is a confused, stilted missed opportunity of a film.
At its core, Rush is a standard chase movie, with its one big twist being the focus on bikes instead of cars. The basic premise is as simple as can be: New York City bike messenger Wilee is given a job to deliver a package, but corrupt cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter") wants to get his hands on it as well. What the package is or why Monday wants it is unimportant (seriously, even the film can't come up with interesting explanations), but what is important is that this set-up allows for a brisk pursuit through The Big Apple, where Gordon-Levitt's character must outsmart and out-pedal his adversary.
This concept wouldn't be much of a problem if the film owned up to its own simplicity. Several straightforward genre entries have embraced its adherence to convention, such as the recent "The Expendables", which was fine with being a body count simulator and nothing more. The trouble with "Rush" is that it tries to mask its basic nature by adding excess exposition and a dreaded one-two-punch of a tacked-on love interest (Dania Ramirez) and a tacked on rival (Wole Parks), with neither adding anything to the plot. More troubling, and what ultimately trips the film up, is the way in that it constantly slows way down for lengthy, unnecessary flashbacks and cutaways.
In the most glaring of these extraneous scenes, just as the pursuit seems to be picking up steam with Monday hot on Wilee's tale, the film flashes back to show why Monday is after the package in the first place. It isn't a bad scene per se, as it gives the spotlight to the talented actor, whose creepy nervous laughter and nervous ticks remind us just how good he is at playing crazy. However, the result of such a random cutaway (and one that doesn't really reveal anything important or interesting) is that all of the momentum is destroyed. This happens several times through the film, usually whenever the present conflict starts to pick up speed.
The result of Koepp's gratuitous over-complication of a simple idea is more than a little jarring. Even in the final act, the film fails to build up the climactic race against the clock it so badly wants. Which isn't to say "Rush" doesn't have plenty going for it; Gordon-Levitt and especially Michael Shannon seem to be on a completely different plane of acting than the cringe-worthy supporting cast. The film is also damn sleek, with its swooping satellite effects and GPS-imitating transitions. Finally, the whole picture is shot with a breezy confidence that's a joy to just take in. These bells and whistles are enough to demonstrate how much fun this movie could have been. Unfortunately, the incoherent script assures that the film is never becomes to adrenaline rush it promises. Put a different way, "Premium Rush" technically delivers the package to its destination, but only after taking one too many detours and dropping it on the ground a few times.