The key to a first-rate adrenaline-driven movie is not how creative the concept is but how masterfully it's executed.
"Premium Rush" would have been nothing more than a salute to Xtreme sports if director David Koepp hadn't turned the idea into a white-knuckle thrill ride that's a lean, mean biking machine.
The vastly underappreciated Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a law school grad who has traded a life of gray suits for the challenges of being a New York bike messenger. He's the kind of guy who lives life at such a breakneck speed, his bike doesn't have brakes.
A simple job to deliver an envelope puts Wilee's life in danger as a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) tries to intercept the delivery. This leads to a cross-city chase that puts the audience in the action so convincingly that you might consider wearing a set of bicycle clips on your pants.
The bike scenes are strong enough on their own, but Koepp adds another layer with the deft use of computer graphics to show the layout of the city and the trek of the bike riders. Koepp also uses clever graphics to show how Wilee can instantly assess any traffic jam and plot the best and worst courses through them.
"Premium Rush" also gets a kick out of the structure used to tell the story. Instead of a linear approach, the script by Koepp and John Kamps keeps rewinding to fill in details, making the simple story far more entertaining.
It helps that Gordon-Levitt is the key figure in this tale. The actor has a way of bringing emotional depth to even a simple character.
There's a secondary story about Wilee's love life that never quite develops but that would have required applying the brakes to the action. That wasn't going to happen.
The bent spoke in the creative wheel is the dirty cop. Koepp is so intent on making the audience hate this guy that he's a handlebar mustache away from being a melodrama villain.
Shannon plays him as a mix of a no-nonsense Dirty Harry and a goofball "Ferris Bueller" Principal Rooney. That's not a winning combination.
Otherwise, "Premium Rush" lives up to its name -- it's a real rush.
"Premium Rush," rated PG-13 for language, action scenes. Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dania Ramirez, Michael Shannon. Directed by David Koepp. Running time: 90 minutes. Grade: B+ Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.