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True to his Looney Tunes–esque first name, NYC bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) feels the need for speed. He’s the kind of guy who’d rather narrowly avoid rush-hour sideswipes than submit to suit-and-tie spiritual oblivion. His sixth sense for avoiding close calls with taxicabs, pedestrians and other potentially life-ending obstacles is near Jedi levels. But this hipster Padawan faces his greatest challenge after being tasked with the Columbia University–to-Chinatown delivery of a hot-potato envelope that a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) will stop at nothing to get his hands on.

Spielberg house screenwriter turned occasional director David Koepp (Stir of Echos, Ghost Town) has tons of fun tricking out this relentlessly paced B-movie. All the stunts have a tangible physicality—Wilee’s multilevel escape from a police storage compound is an especially exhilarating set piece—while most of the digital effects are reserved for inventive Google Maps–meets–Grand Theft Auto asides that hilariously illustrate our hero’s peril-avoiding thought process. As long as Koepp keeps the focus on his two leads, the good times are infectious: Gordon-Levitt pedals with ingratiating Wild One attitude, and Shannon adds another indelible characterization to his rogues’ gallery of bug-eyed lunatics. But after the story takes a cloyingly sentimental turn, this lean-and-mean thriller becomes bathetically bloated. Just a few spokes short of a wheel, guys.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

Release details

Rated: PG-13
Release date: Wednesday August 24 2011
Duration: 91 mins

Cast and crew

Director: David Koepp
Screenwriter: David Koepp
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Michael Shannon
Jamie Chung
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