"Premium Rush" is both the title of this movie and its clever if less than subtle promise to summer audiences -- which it mostly delivers, with its adrenaline-junkie bicycle messenger chased all over Manhattan by a crooked cop. On the downside, the movie has a tone as all-over-the-map as the story: suspenseful crime drama, popcorn action movie and cartoon slapstick.
Law school grad turned king-of-the-messengers Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has 90 minutes to deliver a receipt worth $50,000 to a Chinese human transporter -- three years' worth of savings by dissident Nima (Jamie Chung), who wants to bring her toddler to the States. However, it's also worth 50 large ones to gambling-addict NYPD detective Robert Monday (Michael Shannon), the worst cop since "Bad Lieutenant."
Monday's a bad day for Wilee, as the desperate detective chases, corners, threatens and even tries reasoning with him to hand over the receipt. Complicating matters is Wilee's love interest Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and rival messenger Manny (Wolé Parks), who's trying to make time with her and constantly challenging Wilee to macho duels of bikesmanship with such unintentionally homoerotic howlers as "Have you seen my thighs?"
The most interesting thing? The multiple scenarios Wilee imagines whenever a crash is looming, with some alternatives involving gruesome Rube Goldberg cause-and-effect like the "Final Destination" movies.
Director and co-writer David Koepp credibly justifies the extreme choices the characters make: If you've ever wanted to yell at the screen about the baby-sitter entering the spooky room instead of running out the door, there's none of that here. Everything makes sense -- at least until the subplot about a Wile E. Coyote bike cop (Christopher Place) who keeps getting hurt, and until Shannon goes from feral menace to observational humor. His ambulance scene with Gordon-Levitt is funny and sharp and belongs in another movie.
In fact, "Premium Rush" may be a bargain: It's three or four kinds of movies for one ticket.
PLOT A New York City bicycle messenger is endangered by a mysterious package. RATING PG-13 (some violence, intense action sequences, language)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Enjoyable kineticism that bicycles from serious to silly.
Four more two-wheeler films
Here are four other movies in which bicycles played a prominent role:
THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948) -- Vittorio De Sica's art-house classic about an impoverished Italian man (Lamberto Maggiorani) who spends a week searching the streets of Rome for his missing bike -- because his livelihood depends on it.
BREAKING AWAY (1979) -- Oscar-winning (best original screenplay) drama about four 19-year-old friends in Bloomington, Ind., one of whom (Dennis Christopher) becomes obsessed with competitive bicycle racing.
QUICKSILVER (1986) -- Kevin Bacon stars as a financial whiz who, after making a bad business decision, becomes a bike messenger zipping through the streets of San Francisco. Along the way he falls for another messenger, played by Jami Gertz.
-- ANDY EDELSTEIN