1. It's difficult to overstate how much I dislike bicycle riders in New York City. (Collectively. I'm sure you, individual who rides his/her bike, are perfectly pleasant and normal ... when you're not on your bike.) Bike riders have taken over this city, and they are, almost entirely across the board, rude, dismissive of everyone who isn't on a bike, and smug that no matter what the traffic interaction, they are in the right. (Here's a video of a particularly obnoxious one, who actually says at one point, "Hey, I'm doing the world a favor riding my bike.") Cyclists in New York always complain about how dangerous the cars are, but as a pedestrian, as someone giddy to live in one of the few cities in America where you can just walk everywhere, bikes are far more a menace than cars. I've never seen a car drive down the wrong side of the street, brazenly run every red light, or just pop up on the sidewalk whenever the driver feels like it. I see a bicyclist do this every 10 seconds. And cars haven't ruined the Brooklyn Bridge either.
2. This is all to say that I was awfully predisposed to hate Premium Rush, which is a thriller about bike messengers. It's not much more complicated than that. A bike messenger named Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ends up with a valuable package that a corrupt cop (Michael Shannon) desperately needs to pay off a gambling debt. The movie is essentially Wilee being chased up, down, and around Manhattan. Fortunately, Wilee is the kind of bike messenger who is able to make it from Harlem to Chinatown in 20 minutes flat. Of course, he's not that good: The movie, alas, isn't over in 20 minutes. I suppose bike messengers, for all their speed, aren't always great at staying focused and on task.
3. The primary purpose of the film is to showcase Wilee flying through Manhattan traffic every way he can, whether it's by grabbing onto the side of a taxicab, doing flips down the staircases of Columbia University, or zipping past and over cars and pedestrians at a crowded Times Square intersection. These scenes are extremely well-shot and viscerally thrilling; director David Koepp employs a fun technique of freezing Wilee right before he makes a decision, playing out various scenarios if Wilee goes left or right, often with Wilee splattered across the windshield of a Mac truck or plowing into a baby stroller. This is moderately entertaining, such as it goes, though once again, it's tough to watch these scenes and not just scream, "Just slow the fuck DOWN! There are people in this city other than you!" at the screen. At one point, Shannon, who I remind you is the bad guy, yells at Wilee, "Everyone in this city hates you!" and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person in the theater who applauded.
4. The movie is ridiculous in every possible way. The plot itself doesn't make any sense; at one point, Wilee, who's supposed to be in a hurry, decides to hop in a random police station to file a report that Shannon is trying to kill him but, as it turns out, runs right into Shannon himself. (Apparently, there is only one police precinct in Manhattan.) The movie almost cheerfully pretends that bike messenging isn't just an occupation for the stoned and otherwise unemployable; it's a calling, an art form in which Wilee is its master practitioner. It treats bike messengers like fighter pilots, and Wilee is their Maverick; he's a super genius savant who nevertheless just Can't Play By Your Rules, to the point that he (seriously) refuses to put brakes on his bike. The movie is so silly that one of its primary turning points involves two people pedaling through Central Park. That's it. They're just, you know, having a race. That's what Hollywood does best, transforming our wildest imaginations into reality.
5. The movie itself, as idiotic as it is, has its dipshit charms, thanks in large part to its two main actors. I have no idea why Gordon-Levitt—whose career is pretty much taking off in every way—decided to make a movie in which he was a heroic bike messenger Jedi dude bro, but I appreciated his inherent likability regardless. (I sometimes worry that his seeming innate decency is going to get him typecast in the long run, but for dumb bike messenger movies, it'll do.) Shannon, who is a serious, thunderous actor, cranks up the goofball mode here and makes it work. He bugs out his eyes in a manic, addled way that's entertaining even while you know he's above all this. And Koepp directs the film with a driving energy that the dopey premise needs but doesn't necessarily deserve. This is a movie that doesn't find it the least bit implausible that, when a climactic battle is imminent, all the city's bike messenger dispatchers corral all the city's bike messengers, whereupon they all help beat down the villains. (I suppose this is like Maverick calling in Iceman and his cronies?) In the universe of Premium Rush, there is in fact a bike messenger bar, where all the cool bike messengers drink and show off their battle scars. I do not want to go this bar. I might want to sneak by and deflate all their tires, though.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.