Film: ‘Premium Rush’ (2012)

Columbia Pictures

If you propelled Mercury, ancient messenger of the gods, into the 21st century, there’s a good chance he’d be a bicycle courier. Because he served the deities, he’d have to ride really fast. And he’d probably be a lot like Wilee, the speed-demon messenger in “Premium Rush.”

Mercury’s domain is commerce, transportation, communication, the mind, restlessness and trickery. “Premium Rush” – its protagonist, subject matter, location and visuals – is a paean to the imp-god who’s typically depicted with wings on his feet.

Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a law student who never bothered taking the bar. Not a fan of closed spaces and suits, he’s more at home on a devilishly fast bicycle without brakes or gears. Like Mercury, who shuttled between the upper and lower worlds, Wilee – nicknamed for the shrewd cartoon character Wile E. Coyote – hurtles through the far reaches of New York City’s Manhattan, a locale that lives and breathes Mercury-infused ideas, deal-making and chicanery.

The pick-up that becomes the movie’s center piece belongs to a grievously worried client with a critically tight deadline. A crooked cop with a gambling problem (Michael Shannon) gets wind of the money-value of what Wilee is transporting. The resulting cat-and-mouse chase becomes a Mercurial fuse. The screen alights both with animated tags between destinations in aerial views, and also split-second hypothetical routes which, if taken, would result in likely fatal mishaps.

The movie, from first-time director David Koepp, relies heavily on breakneck editing to convey Mercury’s speed and deviousness. Wilee-on-bike zips through impossibly narrow passages, skates on pieces of wooden track that look as narrow as a female gymnast’s balance beam, and even winds up inside a small supermarket.

Abetted by the Uranian proclivity to go rogue and Pluto’s life-and-death intensity, it’s pretty much a sure thing that Wilee – who does wear a helmet – will deliver on time. The hero’s “brakes-are-death” philosophy makes for a whoosh of a Mercurially breathless ride.

Rating: ☿+ (Mercury-plus)

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