"PREMIUM RUSH" vaults immediately to front rank of action movies about bicycle messengers.

Ahead of . . . was "Quicksilver" an action movie?

It seemed more like one of those '80s movies about some guy struggling to find himself, before finally making it as a writer/fighter pilot/race driver/bartender/bike messenger, starring Michael J. Fox, Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise or Kevin Bacon.

"Premium Rush" stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and his character, Wilee, seems initially to be cut from the same self-involved cloth - graduated from law school, declined to take the bar exam, became immersed in the daredevil world of trick-riding and paid the bills by hurtling dangerously through the streets of New York on a highway to the danger zone.

Happily, however, that backstory falls away, and "Rush" becomes a refreshingly simple stunt-packed, low-budget action movie. Wilee picks up a package sought by various sinister forces and soon is racing to stay ahead of corrupt cops, gambling-ring leg-breakers and international traffickers.

All powerful and heavily armed, but none capable of riding a bike as well as Wilee (more roadrunner than coyote), who (along with his stunt double) pedals like a maniac through Manhattan, skirting trouble with amazing feats of man-bike dexterity.

The stunts have an X-gamey appeal, and the madly up-tempo editing, biker-cam shots and vid-game treatment (showing us possible ways Wilee can die at a given intersection) are obviously aimed at a youth demo.

The movie also has a sort of retro appeal, being the kind of movie Hollywood has nearly stopped making - a short, compact, lightweight B movie with a young and diverse cast and sense of humor. Michael Shannon is the movie's heavy, who learns in the end what it is to run afoul of an army of Millennial bike messengers given carte blanche, at last, to pummel the middle aged, suit-wearing pedestrian in the middle of the street. It ain't pretty.

Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or thompsg@phillynews.com. Read his blog at philly.com/KeepItReel.