Bicycle Culture

Cycle: Slick Cycling Aside, "Premium Rush" Needs to Lose Its Brakes

About two-thirds of the way through "Premium Rush," the latest entry into cycling's cinematic cannon, the film's hero Wilee (as in Coyote, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) says one of the great truisms about our two-wheeled, human powered machines.

"Bikes want to go fast."

And so does "Premium Rush" -- especially when there's pedaling involved. The bikes and the New York City messengers who ride them rip through late afternoon Manhattan traffic like bats out of hell with cameras following at street level making for one the most exciting depictions of bikes ever on the big screen. Unfortunately, the story's ridiculous plot intervenes way too often, each time bringing the action to a screeching halt.

The story centers around Wilee, the fastest messenger in NYC with no fear and crazy instincts, who picks up a delivery that needs to get to Chinatown despite the efforts of a dirty NYPD detective (Michael Shannon, doing his best bat-shit crazy) wanting to keep the envelope from getting to its destination.

In terms of plot, that's all that needs to be known because this is a movie that constantly has you asking why they didn't just make a phone call instead of calling a bike messenger. Really it doesn't matter because the whole story is just an excuse to have some fairly spectacular cycling scenes through the mean streets.

And spectacular they are. The movie uses some nifty FX tricks to take us in and out of the city's urban canyons and show how Wilee can pick the best escape route in a split second, but the true wonder is in the movement through traffic - bumping off of cars, hopping curbs and skidding around people - and the control Gordon-Levitt and his fellow messengers have of their rigs.

Wilee is a fixie purist, declaring that "a steel frame, one gear, no brakes and the cranks always turning" is the only way to ride. This fixie-is-best mentality is driven home by a fairly ridiculous race through Central Park against a carbon geared machine ridden by Wilee's rival Manny (Wolé Parks, doing his best Wesley Snipes). And by the way, if a bike messenger can afford a custom Parlee with SRAM Red parts (that's a $13,000 bike!), why the hell is he a bike messenger?

Much of the footage is nothing that can't be found on the web, but seeing it shot at this big screen scale makes for genuine thrills and any street cyclist will want to check it out.

Clearly, Gordon-Levitt has some handle and did a good amount of the riding, as evidenced by an end credits scene that shows him with a bloody arm after going into the rear window of a taxi during filming.

But throughout the entire movie I kept thinking to myself, "This guy needs to play Lance Armstrong. He looks just like him." Especially now that that story is getting interesting.

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Jason Franz
Contact: Jason Franz