Premium Rush a thrill chase

Chase thriller Premium Rush spins on the daredevil wheels of bicycle couriers, and it will leave cops frowning, drivers fuming and pedestrians cowering.

Premium Rush

Three stars (out of four)

Rated: 14A

Chase thriller Premium Rush spins on the daredevil wheels of bicycle couriers, and it will leave cops frowning, drivers fuming and pedestrians cowering.

That’s only if they take it too seriously. Better to just sit back and enjoy it as a summer jolt of pure adrenaline.

It’s an unlikely vehicle for a story of intrigue and danger. Writer/director David Koepp knows this, and delights in showing us the error of our assumptions.

He’s assembled a crackerjack cast, led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon, who bring the right blend of drama and levity to a story that’s more than a little ridiculous, but at the same time well paced and plotted.

Leave your judgments about cyclists in the parking lot, if you’re the type who rages over reckless two-wheelers.

This entire movie could be shown in schools as a public-safety message about what not to do on a bike.

The kids would be sure to pay attention.

Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee.

Wilee is the ace rider for a Manhattan courier firm that promises deliveries fast enough to make emails and faxes seem slow.

He earns peanuts whipping around town, defying all laws (including gravity), but it sure beats wearing a suit and riding a desk.

“Runnin’ reds, killin’ peds,” he jokes. Maybe he’s not joking.

His bike doesn’t have brakes, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez, of TV’s Entourage), a fellow courier who wishes Wilee would just slow down.

Yet another courier, jealous rival Manny (Wolé Parks), wishes Wilee would slow down with Vanessa.

“I can’t stop,” Wilee says. “Don’t want to, either.”

He isn’t entirely lacking in common sense or scruples. Sent across town on a rush delivery for an anxious woman named Nima (Jamie Chung, The Hangover Part II), he turns old-school postman when a burly fellow named Monday (Michael Shannon) demands he hand over the envelope.

Nothing will stop Wilee from completing his appointed rounds. He takes flight, with Monday in hot pursuit by car. There’s much more at stake here than a money-back guarantee, as we learn on the gallop.

Koepp parcels out information, following an on-screen timeline that frequently backs up to fill in a plot gap. At times the movie resembles a commercial for a GPS device, as Wilee plots the fastest line from A to B, and how best to dodge threatening taxis and looming baby strollers.

It’s a tougher movie than you might expect — some bad things happen — but also a goofier one than the circumstances would suggest. The object being energetically delivered and hotly sought is a genuine MacGuffin. It makes no real sense to the story but it is nevertheless of utmost importance to the people in it.

Shannon’s bug-eyed Monday makes the obligatory Wile E. Coyote joke about Wilee, but it is actually Monday who is more like a cartoon character. He wants that MacGuffin, really, really badly and he’s prepared to go to absurd lengths to get it.

It’s a clever story, as propulsive as some of Koepp’s best-known work — he wrote the screenplays for Jurassic Park and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man — but without the arcane intricacies that sometimes mar his more serious films. He also wrote the first Mission: Impossible movie, and people are still wondering what that was about.

Premium Rush is a pure rush, like lightning on wheels, and if people get a bicycle safety message out of it, consider it a bonus.

Gordon-Levitt found out for himself two summers ago, when Premium Rush was filming in the streets of Manhattan. He had an accident that required 31 stitches to his arm. The bandage he wore is in the film, as is a closing-credits video clip that recalls the spill.

Peter Howell is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.