"Premium Rush" is unabashedly stupid -- just not stupid enough.

The story of a bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) being chased by an unhinged detective (Michael Shannon) through the crowded streets of New York City seems like the perfect recipe for a B-movie.

Yet this film -- or stylized video game -- plays it straight far too long despite the swift running time of what amounts to an extended set piece. By the time director David Koepp (screenwriter of "Jurassic Park" and "Spider-Man") embraces the campiness, many will have checked out.

On screen
'Premium Rush'
1 1/2 out of 4 stars
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez and Jamie Chung
Director: David Koepp
Rated: PG-13 for some violence, intense action sequences and language
Running Time: 91 Minutes

Here is the intricate plot: Bike messenger picks up package. Turns out, this little envelope has enormous worth. Bad guy chases bicyclist -- again and again and again.

Koepp tosses aside linear storytelling, instead using a series of flashbacks to explain character motivations that remain absurd despite the effort to add a sense of heft to a simple chase movie.

Gordon-Levitt's Wilee has a death wish. At almost every intersection, he narrowly avoids annoying taxi drivers, pesky pedestrians or whatever series of concoctions are devised to create tension -- the film is at its best when Wilee is weaving in and out of this asphalt jungle.

But when Wilee puts on the brakes -- or stops, you see, he doesn't believe in using brakes (metaphors abound in this nuanced effort) -- the brief adrenaline rush wears off. You can only watch somebody pedal and deliver sarcastic one-liners for so long.

The movie plays like cheap Guy Ritchie imitation, as the over-stylization serves no purpose other than to mask a film that has little to say. The finale is rather glorious but further punctuates an inability to strike the right tone.

Is this a straight thriller? Is it cheesy diversion? 'Rush' never answers that question.

Gordon-Levitt and Shannon are among the most consistent actors working today so it seems a bit odd that both would embrace such lightweight material.

For his part, Shannon hams it up as only he can, displaying the manic streak that has become his trademark. The few laughs in this film are courtesy of his bug-eyed huffing and puffing.

But it's as if he and Gordon-Levitt are in two separate movies. The leading man plays earnest while the larger-than-life Shannon winks at the audience.

And like Gordon-Levitt throughout the film, moviegoers will spend most of their time crafting an escape path.