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Joseph Gordon LevittAre they the modern day Pony Express? Or are bike couriers reckless adrenaline junkies who make the streets just a little less safe? The new thriller “Premium Rush,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon, paints a portrait of them as a little bit of both.

I don’t know if bike couriers have the equivalent of the famous “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” slogan, but if they do it probably reads something like this: “Neither stop lights nor pedestrian safety nor traffic will prevent these couriers from delivering their packages and earning their thirty bucks.”  Of all the courier misfits Wylie (Gordon-Levitt) is the most extreme. Stripped of gears and brakes, his bike is a missile charging through the streets of Manhattan delivering “that thing to that place, fast.” A routine pick-up and drop-off turns dangerous when a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) decides he needs what Wylie is carrying more than its intended recipient.

“Premium Rush” is like a BMX race with a plotline. Bikes dart in and out of traffic, defy the laws of gravity and spin on one wheel, which is all cool, but doesn’t mean much unless the story holds interest so director David Koepp has invented just enough of a narrative to keep things rolling on two wheels.

Nothing about the story is particularly memorable, and I truly doubt that anyone will become invested in the characters, but the leads, Gordon-Levitt and Shannon bring enough playfulness to keep audiences interested.

Gordon-Levitt hands in a likeable high-energy performance but it is Michael Shannon who makes the biggest impression. As the dirty cop with an attitude, a gambling problem and debt he can’t pay, he’s a cartoon, a wild caricature of a man on the edge. It’s almost worth the price of admission to hear him say, “I forgot to bring my bullets. I’ll meet you there,” to his cop buddies.

“Premium Rush” is a speed demon, a formulaic story with a-list action but a b-movie story.

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