With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Aasif Mandvi. Written by David Koepp, John Kamps. Directed by David Koepp. Rated PG-13 (for some violence, intense action sequences and language). 91 minutes.
Remember “Quicksilver,” the 1986 movie starring Kevin Bacon as an ex-stockbroker who becomes a bicycle messenger? Of course you don’t. It was an utterly forgettable movie completely overshadowed by his more impressive work both before and since. Now comes PREMIUM RUSH, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a fine young actor who notched another great performance in this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” stars as a bicycle messenger. The result is, unsurprisingly, another forgettable movie.
Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee (like Wile E. Coyote) and works as a bicycle messenger in New York City. He gets an envelope from Nima (Jamie Chung) and is told it is crucial it arrive at a certain address at the other end of Manhattan within 90 minutes. Meanwhile, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a corrupt cop, wants to relieve him of this envelope. Any guesses as to how this will end?
There are a couple of bits of cleverness here. First, the film keeps resetting the clock so we see the story from different perspectives and gain new information, like why Nima needs the envelope delivered and why Bobby needs to intercept it. Second, as Wilee zips through the city streets, he has to choose which path to follow. In “Run Lola Run” style, we see him calculating the risks of veering to the left or the right or going down the middle. Let’s give credit where it’s due for this not being entirely mindless, but that only takes us so far.
The problem is that we don’t know much about or really care about any of these characters. There’s the suggestion that Wilee could have been pursuing a more upscale career path, but why he’s chosen the life he has is a mystery. We learn why Nima needs the envelope delivered but learn almost nothing about her, so as a character she doesn’t quite have the depth of a pawn in a chess game. We see that Bobby’s a bad egg but how or why he got that way is left undisclosed. The film needs a designated villain so he’s it.
Other characters are even less developed. Dania Ramirez is another messenger with whom Wilee has some sort of relationship that’s never really explained. Aasif Mandvi, so funny on “The Daily Show,” has a nothing part as the operator of the messenger service. Other characters don’t even rise to the level of being one-dimensional.
What we’re left with are bicycles scooting around Manhattan and some mildly diverting stunt work if you’re interested in such things, and a story in which we have nothing invested in so that its ultimate resolution has no impact. Gordon-Levitt, who has impressed in movies as different as “Brick,” “(500) Days of Summer” and “Inception,” is just zipping along on a bike here. Perhaps he really likes biking, perhaps he needed the money, or perhaps he was doing someone a favor by appearing in this film. The bottom line, though, is that while “Premium Rush” is not in any way premium, it will be rushing through theaters on its way to the bargain bin of discount DVDs.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.