Premium Rush: Finally, a great CGI-free action movie?

If you're tired of predictable computer-generated blockbusters, indie darling Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings back the concept of... actual stunts

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as bike messenger Wilee in "Premium Rush"
(Image credit: <a href="">Premium Rush</a>)

Hollywood blockbusters don't generally come out in the final days of August, but writer-director David Koepp believes his new film, Premium Rush, "gives audiences something they should be craving at this point in the summer," says John Horn in the Los Angeles Times: "A relatively straightforward action film whose visual effects take a back seat to actual stunts." The movie traces the harrowing journey of bike messenger extraordinaire Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he delivers a valuable package from New York City's Upper West Side to Chinatown, dodging cars, pedestrians, and crooked, gambling-addicted cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) on the way. (Watch the trailer below.) Gordon-Levitt, a handful of trick cyclists and stuntmen, and one real-life NYC bike messenger handle the death-defying bike riding, with little reliance on the computer-generated effects that typify summer action flicks. Does the stripped-down film work?

Implausibly, the film clicks beautifully: As someone who absolutely hates all cyclists in New York City, "I was awfully predisposed to hate Premium Rush," says Will Leitch at Deadspin. But the two lead actors are great, Koepp "directs the film with a driving energy that the dopey premise needs but doesn't necessarily deserve," and above all, the action sequences "are extremely well-shot and viscerally thrilling." There's not much to the movie but bike chases, but the real-life action makes for a thrilling ride.

"First, kill all the cyclists. Premium Rush, reviewed."

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Actually, Premium Rush is a bit flimsy: Sure, "there's definite romance to be found here in the whirling of spokes, the communing of man and machine, and the crazy freedom of cutting through a dense urban landscape" with apparent ease, says Alison Willmore at Movieline. But "ultimately there's only so much you can do on a bike." Premium Rush is only 91 minutes long, but "it barely has enough forward motion to make it through" even that abbreviated run. Despite the sweaty thrills, the movie ends up being "half-entertaining, half-exasperating."

"Gordon-Levitt brings sweaty substantiality to... Premium Rush"

And the self-consciously retro stunts aren't for everyone: You should head into the film expecting "buoyant dumb-fun," says Manohla Dargis in The New York Times. The decision to use "real rather than digital stunts and effects" is a nice nod to the "DIY ethos of fixed-gear" cyclists like Wilee, but it's also a little precious, "like collecting vinyl records, taking up sewing, baking your own bread, [or] handwriting thank you notes." As long as you're into that, Premium Rush "provides just about all the late summer air-conditioned relief you could hope for." But if you're not, beware.

"No breaks for a rider in a hurry"

Bottom line: Old fashioned, for better or worse.

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