“Premium Rush” moves like “The French Connection” on two wheels with no brakes from start to finish. It's the Tour de France adapted to the mean streets of New York and it's a thrill ride worth taking, especially for fans of extreme cycling — as in extremely dangerous.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“50/50, “The Dark Knight Rises”) gives us a likable young daredevil to root for as Wilee (nickname: the Coyote Man), the best of the Big Apple's agile, steel-nerved bicycle messengers, dodging and darting around speeding cars, combative cabbies and eight million peeved pedestrians on his “fixie” — a super lightweight, single-gear bike with no brakes — doggedly committed to delivering urgent packages and messages to their designated recipients in a minimum amount of time. Nothing stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.
Nothing, that is, except maybe a dirty cop with impulse control issues.
Enter Michael Shannon (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Take Shelter,” “Revolutionary Road”) intense and electric as ever as Bobby Monday, a police detective who's desperate to get his hands on an envelope Wilee's been assigned to deliver to a certain party by 7 p.m. It's a package that could rid gambling addict Bobby of a debt owed to some very rough players who run a high-stakes Pai Gow game in Chinatown.
When Bobby first confronts Wilee, claiming the sender wants the envelope back, Wilee responds: “Yeah, the thing is, once it goes in the bag, it's gotta stay in the bag.”
Bobby warns, “It's in your best interest to give me that envelope.”
But Wilee speed-pedals away and the chase is on, playing out rapidly in what seems like real time with the exception of a few brief flashbacks that reveal the story behind the envelope — which has a heartbreakingly human center — and the different ways Wilee's on-again-off-again bike messenger girlfriend Vanessa (a feisty Dania Ramirez), her Asian roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) and Wilee's rival Manny (Wole Parks) become entangled in the situation.
Director David Koepp (“Spider-Man” screenplay), who co-wrote the script with John Kamps, keeps the narrative wheels spinning throughout this pulse-quickening 90 minutes, while Shannon gives another of his riveting performances, this time as an emotional powder keg with a badge whose presence, at once amusing and frightening, dominates every scene he's in.
With Shannon's furious turn adding fuel to the proceedings, and some of the most harrowing chase scenes and bicycle stunts lately committed to film, this is a spin around Central Park and points up and down Manhattan Island that audiences won't soon forget.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Wole Parks.
(Some violence, intense action sequences and language)