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A very different kind of drama also set on two wheels opens in theaters today. It's the story of a bike messenger who finds himself a wanted man. The movie is called "Premium Rush" and that's an appropriate title, says critic Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: A character we have yet to meet flies through the air in slow motion on a busy New York street at the start of this movie. He's wearing a bike helmet, which is a good thing because, as The Who's "Baba O'Riley" pulses in the background and numbers come up on the screen telling us it's 6:33 p.m., he lands with a thud on the pavement.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: For a second or two, he lies there staring at a car careening towards him, a woman mouthing his name, a bike that lies crumpled at his side.

You might want to take those moments to catch your breath. You won't be offered many other chances because, a few seconds later, the film rewinds to leap back in time and tell you how he got there. Played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this peddle-pumping courier is Wilee. His nickname is Coyote, though he's more the Roadrunner in this story, scooting up alleys and darting against traffic to get away from a corrupt cop who covets something he's picked up for delivery.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PREMIUM RUSH")

MICHAEL SHANNON: (as Bobby Monday) Hey, give me the envelope.

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: (as Wilee) No.

MONDELLO: The detective, who's both menacing and hapless as played by Michael Shannon, is at a real disadvantage driving a car. On Manhattan's jammed avenues, he can't begin to keep up with Wilee, who's given up a legal career for what he makes look like a contact sport, zipping through Manhattan on a stripped down fixie, a bike with no gear shift and no brakes.

In a flashback, Wilee's girlfriend, who's also a messenger, wonders if he has a death wish.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PREMIUM RUSH")

DANIA RAMIREZ: (as Vanessa) The way you ride...

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Wilee) You want to know what scares me - is what happened to my friends who just got out of law school. That is collective insanity. Compared with that, going down Broadway at 60 with no brakes is fine.

MONDELLO: Writer-director David Koepp, who's written dozens of action scripts from "Spiderman" going all the way back to "Jurassic Park," doesn't try as a director to freight any of this with meaning, apart from being the latest reason to think that Gordon Levitt's star is only going to burn brighter. "Premium Rush" is just a fun ride.

But the director does do a couple of things in it that are unusual for Tinsel Town. His New York actually looks like New York with a largely Asian, Hispanic and African-American cast and that's really New York they're all careening through at breakneck speed, not some studio back lot.

Gordon Levitt even did a lot of his own stunts and took his own falls, as an end credits outtake makes clear, all of which means "Premium Rush" offers a pretty decent end-of-summer adrenaline rush. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PREMIUM RUSH")

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