AS any visitor to New York will attest, it takes talent, nerves of steel and a sense of reckless abandon to navigate the mean streets of Manhattan - and that's from the back of a taxi. On the other hand, dodging traffic and performing assorted feats of derring-do as a bicycle courier requires a different kind of approach - something closer to a death wish.
That's the premise of Premium Rush, a thoroughly frenetic film about the people who make incredible, madcap dashes on two wheels across the city, delivering packages as much for the thrill as for the pay cheque. The movie starts with an accident and proceeds to relate - at a dizzying pace and with an adrenaline-charged approach - the events leading up to that exact moment.
The leader of this slightly unhinged pack is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) - named for the cartoon character Wile E Coyote - a young man who takes pride in being the best (and fastest) bike messenger in the city. It's a highly competitive field (this is New York, after all) and requires a special skill set, not least of which are a strong pair of thighs and an ability to change directions at warp speed.
It also helps to have a hardy steed. Premium Rush, directed by David Koepp and written by Koepp and John Kamps, is targeted at hard core bike riders but it also offers just about enough by way of a plot to appeal to mainstream moviegoers. The film provides a crash course, so to speak, in the crazy world of bicycle couriers and by the end, you'll feel an irrational urge to strap on a helmet and elbow pads.
Wilee is a purist at heart and the leading proponent of the messenger's mantra: deliver the goods in style and on time. To him, riding along Sixth Avenue at rush hour is preferable to a high-paying job with an office and a view. It's a sport more than a job and he adheres to his own rules, no exceptions. Simply put, it begins and ends with a basic steel frame bike equipped with fixed gears and no brakes.
Things unfold over the course of one eventful, hyper-quick afternoon. Wilee is asked by foreign student Nima (Jamie Chung) to pick up an envelope at an uptown university and deliver it by a certain time to a Chinatown location, dozens of blocks away. Problem is, an unscrupulous police detective (Michael Shannon) with a bad attitude and an even worse gambling habit wants the same envelope and will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.
The film utilises a vaguely annoying rewind device to stitch the narrative together, but the biking scenes are executed in breathtaking fashion. Inevitably, Wilee's fellow messengers are an assorted bunch of misfits, including love interest Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and rival for her affections (and title of top courier) Manny (Wolé Parks). There's also a subplot about smuggling humans into the country, but plot is not the movie's strong point - not when the primary purpose is to bring viewers on a thrill ride through New York streets.
In essence, the movie is one extended, gut-busting bicycle chase through Manhattan. To the filmmakers' credit, that's a lot more interesting than it sounds. More importantly, it makes a refreshing change from the car-on-car scenes that typically populate films of this nature. The bike couriers deliver and so - in primo style - does Premium Rush.