It's safe to say that bike-focused feature films are a pretty rare thing. A top-ten list might actually be a complete list of all bike movies. The movie I want to cover today is already seven years old, and it's the most recent bike movie I can think of. I'm talking about 2012's Premium Rush, starring the lovable Joseph Gordon-Levitt. To me, he will always be the funny kid from the great sitcom Third Rock from the Sun, but I'm really happy to see he made the jump out of child actor and has logged some decent performances so far.
The film involves a bicycle messenger in New York who gets caught up in criminal activity that leads into awesome chases through the city. I know what you're thinking, and yes, you did see all of this before with Kevin Bacon in the saddle for 1986's Quicksilver. Aside from that basic plot summary, I think the two movies are different enough that they both have value. Besides, after twenty six years we were due for another messenger bike action movie, we earned this, and I think the movie delivers.
From the get-go we are thrown into the life of a present day (well,2012) bike messenger. He uses a phone headset and his dispatcher plots routes for him with GPS. Levitt's character, Wilee checks every box for the messenger stereotype, he's got a giant chain to lock his bike, he's got the beat up messenger bag and he rides a fixed gear brakeless track bike. For the viewing audience, his whole bike philosophy is explained through his interactions with other messengers he encounters. "Brakes are death." he warns the female co-star when she installs a front brake on her track bike. He also has a debate with another co-worker who tries to convince Wilee that gears are superior for a messenger bike.
The movie takes its bike tech pretty seriously and I appreciated that. One of the flaws with Quicksilver was Bacon's ability to have a fixie in some shots and then a freewheel when he needs to go downhill really fast. Wilee crushes the stunts on his track bike, and then when he hops onto a trials bike he's busting huge bunny hops and helicopters. Incidentally, the stunt rider for the trials bike scene is none other than Danny Macaskill, so of course the stunts are good. The movie makes it a point to say, this is one bike that can do this, and now this is another bike that can do other things.
The plot veers away from the standard drug smuggling premise and introduces viewers to an obscure money transfer practice with the Chinese mafia. The main antagonist is a crooked cop who relentlessly chases Wilee, and there is a love triangle between Wilee, the female messenger Vanessa and another rider. But all of that is secondary to the cool adrenaline-filled biking scenes. Some movies suffer from confusing geography, you can lose track of where destinations are and how far away characters are from one another. This movie solves all of that by backing out to a Google Maps view of the city and dropping pins on important plot points. When Wilee says he needs to ride ten blocks, they show you his route, and what that really means on a city map. Like any modern movie, CGI has to make a cameo. Here it's used to create a crazy close-call, car wreck as Wilee breezes through an intersection.
Special effects also play a part in a sequence that I found interesting. Wilee is ripping down a busy street and suddenly his lane is blocked. Time slows down, and we get to see the rider forced to decide between three possible line choices. His mind makes predictions on the possible outcomes of each option. Two are very bad, and the last is still questionable.
I read a few reviews I noticed some movie goers found this scene silly or unrealistic. I'm going to argue that these people are simple popcorn-munchers and have never actually experienced the act of having to choose a line at high speed with dire consequences. Sure, they are capable of changing lanes in their car on the highway, but then they are wrapped in steel and airbags.
That's nothing like the experience of cranking along in the bike lane when a driver makes eye contact and then proceeds to turn in right in front of you. You can A: swerve into the road and get hit by a truck. B: grab both brakes and washout on the loose sand. Or C: Grab only rear brake, scrub some speed with a skid and skirt behind the turning car's rear bumper.
You don't have to be a NYC messenger to follow the movies tag line and... RIDE LIKE HELL.
Go check this movie out, don't expect a masterpiece of crime drama. Just watch it from a cyclists point of view and you will dig it.