The bike messenger in "Premium Rush" doesn't have brakes - and that pretty much describes the movie too.
From the opening scene, this movie kicks into high gear and never slows down till the credits roll.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a fast and fearless Manhattan courier carrying a package sought by a corrupt cop who will stop at nothing to get it.
These images released by Columbia Pictures show Joseph Gordon-Levitt in scenes from “Premium Rush.”
It's a simple idea, but I knew "Premium Rush" would flesh it out with plenty of thrills when I saw who wrote the screenplay - David Koepp, the pen behind "Spider-Man," "Jurassic Park," "Panic Room," "Mission: Impossible" and "Apartment Zero."
Koepp, who also directed, brews up a love triangle between Wilee and two fellow bikers, then firmly connects it to the main storyline.
He also weaves back and forth in time, starting near the end and then jumping backward - a trick he continues to employ while revealing more and more of the plot.
As for the reason this package is hotly desired and worth protecting - Koepp knows it can't be cheap or merely monetary, and he eventually generates such deep concern that I got a little choked up at the end.
Of course, that may have been a function of the relief I was feeling after all that panic.
Indeed, "Premium Rush" is a bracing introduction to the world of bike-messengers, with terrifying plunges into knots of traffic, gut-wrenching chases and death-defying stunt work.
It's shot and edited with lunatic bravado; you can't figure out how on earth they filmed it without causing injury and death.
Among other things, it's painfully obvious that Gordon-Levitt did more than a few of his own stunts; stick around for the credits and you'll see the very real fallout of one scene that left the star's bike flattened and his arm bleeding copiously.
For my money, Gordon-Levitt is the logical successor to Heath Ledger (how fitting that they both hit their stride in "Ten Things I Hate About You" - and both achieved worldwide fame in a "Dark Knight" film).
Gordon-Levitt has an everyman quality that commands the audience's sympathy, and he puts it to good use here - with solid support from Dania Ramirez as a fetching female messenger, Jamie Chung as the woman who sends the package and Henry O as an aging Asian crime figure.
In the badly overwritten part of the crooked cop, however, the usually reliable Michael Shannon comes on too strong. A good villain has to have some mystery, something in reserve so we're never sure what he's capable of; but this guy wears it all on his sleeve, and it ain't pretty.
Some of the plot is outlandish, especially in the police garage near the end; but I find solid action films reach a point where you really don't care anymore, and you'll spot them some absurdity if they just manage to maintain excitement.
"Premium Rush" does that, and then some.