Sorry, people who hate it when Critical Mass goes for a group ride or individual bicyclists burn through red lights and nearly cause you to crash your car into whatever else happens to be in the way when you swerve to miss them and their two-wheel-protest of all known road rules: you are in the wrong. According to this film, the bike-percent are a righteous team of renegades who are personally responsible for saving the world, one adorable Chinese child at a time.
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a no-brakes, no-gears kind of guy. That he wears a helmet at all for his job as an always-sweating, legs-of-steel, Manhattan bike messenger seems like a concession to The Corporate Machine he hates. But wear one he does, and that's good news for him because in the film's opening shot, we're treated to a slow-motion ballet of Wilee flying through the air, separated from his bike thanks to a head-on collision with a moving taxi.
Suddenly, Run Lola Run-meets-Bullitt-meets-The French Connection-meets all Road Runner cartoons as the movie zips the clock back and forth to tell the story of what caused Wilee to narrowly escape that deadly head injury. It does this via huge, screen-splashing smartphone graphics of time, GPS displays and crazy intuitive "future-vision" on the part of our surly hero. He can literally see arrows pointing him to possible outcomes of each bike maneuver he makes: one will smash him into a baby stroller, another will cause the death of a pedestrian under a truck, the third will zoom him in the right direction and out of the clutches of deranged Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). The day this movie is available for viewing on your iPhone, it will feel like the perfect fusion of message and medium. You might even mistake it for an incoming text and wonder how you and Joseph Gordon-Levitt suddenly became such tight bros.
Meanwhile, Wilee may have the cartoon coyote's name but he's really the one shouting a happy MEEP-MEEP! to Shannon's hapless cop. The brutal bad guy is always scheming with tricks and Acme anvils but is never able to trap his prey, a ticket given to Wilee by friend Nima (Jamie Chung). That ticket spells big money to its recipient and Wilee has to get it there in time or Nima's tiny son won't escape China (by the way, big points to the movie's empathy-wrangler for letting the toddler look sad-eyed in a downpour). Monday, for his part, cares nothing for this sob story and just needs that cash to pay off a huge gambling debt to some guys who take underground Chinese domino games extremely seriously.
But plot and all the other standard elements that determine a film's goodness or badness are fairly irrelevant here. Sensation is the name of this bike race and the sensations are mostly the kind that induce epic giddiness and dumb cheering in audiences. The camera wild-rides it all over the city, the energy never drops, the acting is aggressive and attitude-filled or, in the case of Shannon, so epically task-demolishing that it's as if director David Koepp took the man aside and said, "Pretend this movie is a picnic. You have just been given your own personal 20-pound watermelon to eat. It's all yours. And you have 55 seconds to devour it whole. Rind too. GO!" He's that exhilarating, that funny, that ridiculously hyperactive and he helps deliver this movie on its mission to be perfect end-of-summer fun.
How fun? As I exited the screening room during the closing credits and waved at an extremely well-regarded film critic friend, a person whose dignity I'll protect and leave nameless here, that person shot me dual rock and roll devil-horns by way of response. That much fun.