Premium Rush opens on a helmeted bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) flying slo-mo across the screen, a long-legged bird against the sky. How daredevil biker Wilee (as in Coyote) came to be so dangerously and beautifully airborne requires backtracking through a thriller narrative packed with twists and turns to eventually fetch up where we began. Story line and style are as convoluted and full-throttle as Wilee’s adrenalized navigation — sans gears or brakes — of Manhattan’s crowded avenues and byways. Snatching you up in media res, “Rush” is like a shot of speed: It blasts your breath away, then gives you a ticket to ride a bullet bareback. Wilee’s go-for-broke mantra is the movie’s: “Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.”
Wilee’s main squeeze and fellow bike messenger, buff and sexy Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), has dropped him after he blew off her college graduation for a bike race. So now Wilee’s rival on the road, gorgeously muscled Manny (“Have you seen my thighs?”), played by Wolé Parks, is putting the moves on his lady. Wilee’s a law school grad who can’t be bothered to take the bar exam, a speed demon allergic to any form of sedentary life, of either the romantic or work variety. Man for all movie seasons Gordon-Levitt looks authentically high as he shoots urban rapids (actually cutting himself up — 30 stitches’ worth! — in the process), and Wilee projects a hint of the grown-up he will become sooner rather than later. Thankfully, “Premium Rush” doesn’t moralize (and banalize) pureblood action by making Wilee’s excellent adventure the catalyst for trading in his bike for a desk job.
Meanwhile, psycho cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) loses big while gambling compulsively, getting in so deep with killer loan sharks that he’s forced to head uptown to steal a mysterious “ticket” that’s legal tender for a lot of loot. Guess who’s messengering that ticket down the island to Sister Chen in Chinatown?