Action films frequently trade plot and plausibility for gravity-defying thrills and pyrotechnics.
Did any of us honestly believe the booby-trapped bus in Speed, travelling at almost 70mph, could leap that 30-feet-long gap in the freeway and land safely on the other side without triggering an explosion?
Or that Jake Gyllenhaal could somehow outrun a deadly freeze heralding a new ice age in The Day After Tomorrow?
We willingly suspend disbelief for the sake of an adrenaline rush and writer-director David Koepp hopes we’ll be in a similarly charitable mood for his testosterone-fuelled chase through the streets of Manhattan, set in the high-speed world of bicycle couriers.
Unfolding largely in real time with occasional flashbacks to plug gaping holes in the narrative, Premium Rush races along the streets and avenues of the Big Apple at dizzying speed.
The cast perform many of the tricks and stunts, adding to the sense of danger because a car could suddenly swerve into their path.
To emphasise the peril, rough footage over the end credits shows the back window of a taxi cab smashed to smithereens and lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt standing nearby, blood coursing down his arm where he has evidently collided with the glass.
“We need to get to the hospital!” someone urges off-camera
Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a law student with amazing skills on two wheels, who zips back and forth throughout the city alongside his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and arch-rival Manny (Wole Parks).
Dispatcher Raj (Aasif Mandvi) sends his daredevil rider to Columbia University to collect an envelope from Nima (Jamie Chung).
Soon after, crooked cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) attempts to procure the package, but Wilee resists and slaloms through traffic, determined to reach lower Manhattan by the deadline.
“I’m the guy you don’t mess with!” barks Bobby, who hopes to seize the contents of the envelope: a ticket worth 50,000 dollars to guarantee the safe passage of Nima’s child from China.
Premium Rush is fun for the opening 30 minutes but becomes repetitive.
Koepp introduces a neat slow-motion device a la Bullet Time in The Matrix, which takes us inside Wilee’s head as he surveys possible routes through a crowded intersection, almost all of which end with him crushed under the wheels of traffic, before settling on the one safe route through the moving assault course of vehicles, pedestrians and pavement obstacles.
Gordon-Levitt has boyish charm in abundance and he risks life and limb for his art but there’s little in Koepp’s script, co-written by John Kamps, to test his acting mettle.
Shannon chews scenery and Mandvi provides the comic relief as the foul-mouthed lech who asks Ramirez’s gung-ho, two-dimensional heroine, “”When does Raj get to climb Mount Vanessa?”
Unlike the package in Wilee’s care, Koepp’s film is a second class delivery.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10
Released: September 14 (UK & Ireland), 91 mins