Joseph Gordon-Levitt might be the most earnest young actor in Hollywood.
His eyes naturally crinkle in sober fare like “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Inception” and “(500) Days of Summer.” And his political leanings are equally intense, albeit predictably left of center.
So it’s refreshing to watch him in “Premium Rush,” a project with all the emotional heft of a “Jersey Shore” episode.
Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee (like the Coyote), a whippet-thin bicycle messenger who has no patience with 9-5 America. He’d rather be zig-zagging through the clogged streets of New York – without brakes, mind you – than button up a suit and punch the clock for The Man.
His job gets harder when he picks up a package a crooked cop (Michael Shannon, stealing every scene with ease) wants his hands on, too.
The chase is on, with Shannon’s cop proving dirtier and dirtier and Wilee juggling a fractured romance with a fellow messenger (Dania Ramirez) and an unquenchable need for speed.
Director David Koepp turns the Big Apple into a relief map dotted with yellow lines to show us where Wilee is headed at any given time. We even get Wilee-Vision – alternate paths the messenger considers before choosing his next move.
It’s all oh, so Hollywood – the kind of stunt work and bicycle maneuvers that bear little resemblance to reality. And boy, is it intoxicating. Those sequences soon wear us down, though, leaving us with a wafer-thin plot and dialogue so trite we’re mentally racing to the end credits.
The Gordon-Levitt/Shannon combination remains eclectic, the former a paragon of sweetness and the latter an amoral fiend unwilling to keep his baser instincts in check.
The bicycle stunt work continually impresses, and while the delivery service seems impossibly dangerous it’s hard not to feel Wilee’s thrill at surviving another block (mostly) unscathed.
“Premium Rush” can’t be considered one of Gordon-Levitt’s best screen projects, but it convinces us there’s a mischievous grin lurking beneath that serious young mug of his.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies