New movie focuses on job of New York bike messenger

In “Premium Rush,” a routine delivery for a New York bicycle courier turns into a race against the clock when a mysterious stranger tries to hijack the package.

On any business day, crossing the street in Manhattan is likely to mean a close encounter with a bicycle courier. They speed from one end of the city to the other with rush deliveries.

Wilee is one of the fastest among the hundreds of two-wheeled messengers. But after he picks up a premium rush package, he discovers someone will stop at nothing to keep him from making the delivery.

“Premium Rush” is written and directed by David Koepp, whose action films range from “Jurassic Park” to “Spider-Man.” He calls it a fresh take on an old Hollywood standby: the chase.

“We’ve all seen car chases a million times,” notes Koepp, “but the consequences for car chases are dented fenders or smashed windshields and in movies it’s certainly been explored fully. The thing about a bike is the slightest contact can kill you. So you feel it when you’re watching the movie that the risk is much higher.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee. He’s no stranger to action films like “Inception” and the current hit “The Dark Knight Rises.” He was intrigued by this character’s embrace of that risk.

“He is a guy that lives very much in the present, and there is a really strong upside to that,” the actor says, “especially because maybe nowadays more than ever we’re a culture that is sort of obsessed with the future, making plans and ‘what am I going to be?’ ‘what’s going to happen not just next week, but five years from now?’ All that stuff …and Wilee is a character who has very much turned his back on that way of thinking.”

Dania Ramirez co-stars as Vanessa, a fellow bike messenger. She says making the film was physically demanding because they really were in Manhattan traffic.

“Most of the movie we were riding bikes, doing all the dialogue while riding bikes,” she explains. “A lot of the training — we trained for six weeks prior to going to New York City — was just a lot of endurance because you couldn’t run out of breath. You had to get your scene across and still be going really fast in the midst of New York City.”

Keeping the pace brisk, “Premium Rush” plays out in real time. Most of the action takes place within its 90-minute length. Michael Shannon co-stars as the villain chasing the valuable package. And dozens of real New York City bike messengers join the actors on screen.

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