RECAP: Premium Rush

Premium Rush (2012): David Koepp

Have you ever wanted to see a movie about New York City’s suicidal bicycle messengers? You haven’t? Well, here’s one anyway.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A by-the-seat-of-his-bike messenger dodges taxis and a dirty cop to deliver a ticket stub from Columbia University to Chinatown. 

Hero (4/10)

Wilee, like Wile E. Coyote (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the fastest, baddest, most reckless of Manhattan’s 1,500 bike messengers. He’s the best because he won’t slow down, doesn’t even have brakes on his machine. “Brakes are death,” he says.

Wilee needs a fast-paced life. He dropped out of Columbia’s law school because the idea of wearing a suit at his age makes his balls shrivel and recede into his abdomen. Instead he tempts far every day navigating treacherous Manhattan streets delivering messages and packages across the world’s most famous borough.

Premium Rush spends much of its opening act laying out the dangers and skills of the mostly invisible bike messenger subset. We see Wilee’s superior navigation skills, on display as he bobs among cars and dodges taxi doors. We watch his anticipation, shown in how three different possible routes through intersections could end in injury.

It takes little time to learn that Wilee is the best, if only because he’s the most dangerous. He out-bikes a cop using a simple technique of recognizing when a taxi door is about to open and dodging it.

Wilee’s personal life is inferior to his bike life. He’s having relationship issues with a fellow biker named Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), whose graduation he skipped to participate in a bike race. She’s mad about it, but to be fair, it’s only a ceremony.

Wilee enjoys his time on a bike. The more death-defying, the better. A dirty cop chases him throughout the day, beats him brutal and punishes him, but Wilee takes it in stride. He’s not a guy who can stop, even slow down. It what makes him the best.

Villain (4/10)

New York detective Robert “Bobby” Monday is in a lot of trouble. He’s up to here in gambling debts to the Chinese, and when some guys tried to collect on it, he beat an enforcer to death.

Bobby believes his money problems can be solved by stealing a ticket that’s being delivered tonight.

Bobby having the worst day of his life.

A montage shows Bobby’s rough day expanding into life-threatening, and I didn’t understand any of it. Many slang words are spoken by Bobby and the Chinese men and women with whom he interacts. Best I could tell, he owes $17,000 from losing at dominoes and he killed a guy. Also, he lost a tooth.

These events occur about two hours before Wilee picks up the ticket from Columbia to deliver to Chinatown.

Bobby shows up on campus to intercept the package from Wilee. Wilee calls him a douchebag. Bobby says, “I’m the guy you don’t fuck with.” ***

It’s true, because Bobby is a fearless driver. He keeps pace through crowded Manhattan’s, dangerous streets as fast as a guy on a bike. All without using his siren. Impressive driving, officer.

Bobby will do anything to fix his problems. I mentioned the killing of an enforcer earlier. He stabs an apple, enraged. He tortures Wilee onboard an ambulance, Wille strapped to a bed and with two cracked ribs.

Bobby seems to understand the silliness of this venture. While chasing Wilee early in the film, he chuckles at himself for chasing a guy on a bike. His life left up to a guy wearing a chain for a belt. The viewer agrees, but is along for the ride.

Action/Effects (5/10)

The best stunts in the movie, probably the only reason Premium Rush got made, occur during a daring escape from a police impound lot.

Following the near-climax at a flower shop, where Wilee, Manny (Wole Parks), Bobby, Vanessa, and a bike cop converge with the all-important ticket, Wilee is injured and has his damaged bike captured and driven back to impound. While Wilee rides in the ambulance and endures torture from Bobby, Vanessa tags along with the impound truck.

A deal is cut and Wilee and Bobby also arrive at the building, Vanessa hiding inside already. Wilee agrees to “help” Bobby get the ticket back in exchange for his bike, where he stashed the ticket after the flower shop dustup.

Detective Bobby Monday, gambling degenerate.

Wilee, two ribs cracked, arrives and finds Vanessa has taken the ticket, but his bike is trashed. They both have to leave the warehouse, and the best way out is on two wheels.

Wilee eyes a trashy yellow bike, music to his ears. He snags it and takes off, yards away from Bobby, by riding over the hoods and roofs of impounded cars. And I mean he’s leaping onto a hood, riding up the windshield, over the roof, and leaping off the trunk and onto the next hood.

A half dozen cops scramble on foot to catch him. For Wilee’s next trick, he leaps onto an orange traffic wall and rides that, the top about four inches wide. Down a conveniently placed crane arm and Wilee hops over a waist-high metal guard rail. I didn’t know such a leap was possible.

A flatbed truck angled perfectly serves as another ramp for Wilee to climb. He leaps over the roof of a small shed better on his bike than cops can run over it on foot. At the end of the elevated path is another cop climbing to meet him. Wilee taps the brakes and spins around the front wheel as he drops down to street level. Wilee narrowly escapes being crushed by closing doors when he bursts from the warehouse.

This sequence last two minutes, shorter than Wilee’s bike race with Manny, his being chased by Bobby for the first time, and all the select-a-route moments that showcase Wilee’s, uh wiliness, but it’s easily the movie’s most imaginative.

Sidekicks (4/8)

Premium Rush should be the story of Nima (Jamie Chung), a Chinese woman studying at Columbia. Her roommate is Vanessa, and Nima knows Wilee through her.

All the action revolves around Nima. She sends the ticket from Columbia up on 116th to a snakehead–a Chinese woman who gets things done in China–down on 28th. It should have been easy to move the ticket 90 blocks in 90 minutes, but when that ticket is worth tens of thousands dollars and a man’s life, the journey won’t be easy.

Nima has a son in China who she wants to bring to over. Bringing a child to America is legal on student visa, Nima is careful to iterate. The Americans aren’t holding up the transfer, it’s the Chinese. Back in the day, Nima wrote an article about Tibet. She doesn’t say which side she took; she doesn’t need to. China holds her son hostage for her political stance.

Nima spent two years working three jobs to raise the cash to bribe a local influencer to call a man on a dock in China to let her son board a ship to join her in the States. Nima pays this money to a handler in a nail salon who draws a smiley face on a movie ticket stub (for a film called Dark Windows) that functions as cash that Nima should take to Chinatown so the snakehead woman can call China to let her son in.

Again, this should have been Nima’s movie. Her story is one of children, immigration, life, maybe death. Wilee just pedals fast because he has a death wish.

Wilee’s on-again, off-again girlfriend/coworker is Vanessa. Vanessa’s a bit of a nosy roommate, butting into Nima’s business regarding Chinatown snakeheads and Sharpied ticket stubs. Best to keep to yourself, Vanessa. But she doesn’t, and ends up spilling the beans to Bobby Monday, nearly foiling the entire scheme.

Vanessa saves the day, though, retrieving the ticket when it is within Bobby’s grasp. She rides at the right moment to snatch it. Vanessa is as fearless as any bike messenger, but not as fast.

Henchmen (0/8)

Bobby Monday is man with problems to hide. He seeks no aid. There is a bike cop, however, who is foiled time and again by Wilee. It’s a reverse-Roadrunner situation. The bike cop gives up the chase after Wilee steals his bike.

Stunts (6/6)

How about a little street race? It had to come to one, right? Wilee and Manny race almost 100 Manhattan blocks, with the all-important ticket Manny’s carrying on the line.

Wilee starts the race about three blocks behind Manny, but he’s more motivated, so he closes most of the gap in a few blocks. When they enter Central Park, the action heats up TO THE MAX.

The duo passes a peloton of active cyclists not trying to kill themselves or others and enter one of the borough’s few inclines. Manny shows off his impressive gear shifting skills and the wide range of gears his bike utilizes. Wilee, with a single gear, pedals faster. Manny gains separation on the uphill, but it’s the downhill where he blows into a huge lead.

Wilee lacks gears and brakes, but he’s got plenty of gumption to make up the difference, which he does after the terrain flattens. He smacks his ride into Manny’s. They enter a no-bike area and harass some locals. Cops spot them and call dispatch who calls the twice-bested bike cop who grins and takes off, a slight cut on his cheek and big chip on his shoulder.

“When’s the race start?” Wilee taunts. He chooses to fly over stairs that Manny side-cycles and takes the lead. About to exit the park, Manny spots a large dog and barks at it. The owner can’t handle the force of the dog’s rage, and the extended leash sends Wilee over the handlebars.

Wilee never gives up. Manny should know that by now. Back on the street the two dodge taxis. The camera hovers above ground and delivers good shots of the stunt actors whooshing past. The bike cop enters the chase and catches up to the winded messengers.

Meanwhile, Vanessa runs a different route, barking at pedestrians minding their own business to “Stay awake; stay alive,” as if it’s on them to watch out for vehicles traveling 20 mph in a crowded area. At the flower shop, where Wilee and Manny are racing, waits Bobby. Also, there’s a trailer blocking the street. Could be dangerous.

The blocks fly by the racers as they turn onto 28th and see the trailer. Manny ducks, but Wilee, he’s too slick, he dismounts and slides on his shoes while clutching the bike. It’s as slick a move as you’ll see at the X Games. The bike cop goes around the trailer and tackles Manny, who tosses the messenger bag aside as Wilee and Bobby spot it. Vanessa cycles in to snatch the bag and save the day, for the moment.

Climax (1/6)

After Wilee’s exploits in the police impound warehouse, the rest of Premium Rush is a drag.

Vanessa gets her moment to shine. She returns to the messenger dispatch center and tells her boss that she needs a flash mobs and needs it yesterday. Raj activates the phone tree of life. Bike mafia assemble!!!!

Wilee and Bobby meet once more in Chinatown, outside the ticket’s true destination. Bobby demands the ticket. He touches his gun. Who’s to say Wilee didn’t rush Bobby? The Chinese, they never testify.

Meanwhile, Nima has called for backup, special secret Chinatown backup. A fat man enjoying Sudoku rides downtown.

Before Wilee is attacked, the bike mafia shows up. They ride around Bobby and hassle him, politely shoving him. Wilee says, “Suck it, douchebag,” a call back to how offensive Bobby finds the phrase “suck it.” He gotcha there, Detective Monday.

Wilee enters a restaurant and finds Sister Chen, a woman so chill she wears sunglasses indoors. She’s the Bono of 28th Street.

Outside, the Sudoku player arrives and shoots Bobby in the back of his neck. Bobby doesn’t drop immediately. He stumbles to his car, opens the door, and collapses, muttering all the while that something seems wrong. What’s wrong is that bullet is lodged in his brain, and it’s going to kill him…now. He’s dead now.

Nima’s son is allowed passage on the cargo ship, and Vanessa is into Wilee again. All’s well.

Wilee, he gets a new bike and stays on two wheels. He admits that he might someday maybe consider possibly wearing a suit to work. But not yet. “Fixed gear, steel frame, no brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.”

Jokes (1/4)

For a movie about guys and gals zipping around on bikes, Premium Rush lays it on heavy. I’ll give a point for repeatedly and seriously using “douchebag” as an insult.

Setting (2/4)

Lower Manhattan is a jungle out there. Often called a concrete jungle, cyclists and drivers wheel across the world’s most famous borough. New York’s copious above-ground transportation methods are visible, and all seem to be at war with each other.

Modes of transport wander the streets like Serengeti megafauna. Taxis prey on bikers, but bikers bite back with the thick chains around their waists. Pedestrians are bottom of the food chain. And buses, they are the lions and the hippos.

Commentary (0/2)

Someone made Premium Rush to help viewers empathize and sympathize with bike messengers. I think. I went into the movie knowing little about bike messengers. Now, I think I hate them.

“Running reds and killing peds,” is a motto Wilee uses early in the movie. Do his kind say that? I don’t know, but in the movie they sure do bike recklessly. An early montage introduces us to the dangers cyclists face, and their methods to retaliate against dreaded taxi drivers, scourge of the asphalt.

These cyclists endanger themselves and the others on road and/or sidewalk. As a bystander says, “I know you have a job to do…”

The courier service must have astronomical insurance rates.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Premium Rush is one of the most diverse movies I’ve ever seen. Here’s the racial/ethnic breakdown of the top six characters: white, white, Latina, Chinese, black, Indian. Much like Manhattan, I imagine.


  • Might be the only movie in history to have a Wilhelm scream and a character shout, “My baby!”

Summary (27/68): 40%

Premium Rush failed to make back its modest $35 million budget. The world wasn’t ready. Premium Rush is probably the first and last bike messenger movie Hollywood will ever make. It’s enough.