Perhaps the first movie brought to you by 5-Hour Energy and Google Maps, “Premium Rush” zigs and zags around the plot almost as much as champion bike courier Wiley (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) weaves his way through Manhattan traffic.
It’s a good thing that adrenaline tends to short-circuit logical thinking; the plot is mostly nonsensical, but you’ll be too thrilled by the literal twists and turns to care. As stories go, this one’s pretty basic: Wiley picks up an envelope at NYU and has to deliver it to Chinatown by 7 p.m.
Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) wants to take that envelope from him. And ... go!
Granted, the screenplay fills in blanks, jumping backward from the perspectives of various characters, letting us know why Wiley made the pickup, what’s in the envelope, why Monday wants it so desperately, and so on.
None of that matters much, even though it does give Shannon the opportunity to chew the scenery with gusto. This is a live-action Road Runner cartoon transplanted from the desert to the city.
“Premium Rush” is a blast to watch, from Wiley’s split-second reflexes (at certain intersections, we see diagrams of how his various choice of routes could end up) to his no-holds-barred race through Central Park with rival courier Manny (Wolé Parks) with bike cops in hot pursuit to the literal ticking clock that pops up on the screen.
Apart from Shannon, there’s not a lot of room for acting here, but director David Koepp keeps his performers going at full speed. Wiley mentions on several occasions that his bike has no brakes, and neither does the movie.
With cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (a vet of everything from “Bourne” to “Transformers” to that Jonas Brothers 3D concert movie) and legendary production designer Thérèse DePrez on hand, the film makes New York simultaneously gleaming and treacherous.
In addition to Wiley’s multiple-outcome-vision, the movie’s other neat trick is to periodically cut to a 3D map of New York with swooshing yellow lines showing us where the characters are and where they’re headed, intercut with satellite photos and Google Earth-type pictures of their destinations.
“Premium Rush” may well be the first movie designed to eventually be watched on your phone, but its visual moxie merits a look while it’s still on the big screen.