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Film echoes Jesus: 'Who is your neighbor?'

An old Reader’s Digest (or some other repository of folklore) story tells of a crowded New York City bus onto which an old woman steps, looking in vain for an empty seat. In busy Manhattan, nearly all the passengers remain oblivious to her plight, but two gallant gentlemen stand and offer their seats to her.

So out of place in New York City is their gesture of kindness that the two men look to one another as strangers in a strange land.

“Indiana,” says the first, identifying himself as a native of a more hospitable state.

The second replies, understandingly, “Wisconsin.”

Though not all of the Big Apple deserves its reputation for a callous disregard of our fellow man, the story does strike a note of truth in that the neighborly ways of small town America are often lost in our urban centers. One could argue those old ways are being lost in rural America, too.

It’s easy to picture Jesus telling us in America the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man beaten by robbers is overlooked and left to die by a host of passersby. It sounds like an everyday occurrence over on 33rd and 3rd.

Jesus told the story as a way of expanding the biblical command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to include more than those who live next door, but even those we might be tempted to despise (Luke 10:25-37).

A similar lesson emerges in the new film in theaters this week, “Premium Rush.”

Though mostly a light-hearted diversion based loosely on the adrenaline-junkie ways and quirky subculture of bicycle couriers racing urgent packages throughout Manhattan, the film contains a pivotal moment when the protagonist must determine if he’s just another New Yorker … or a true neighbor.

The film paints a tension between the white collar world of Manhattan and a seedier, sometimes illegal, underground business being conducted by the residents of Chinatown. There’s even an evil police officer who treats the Chinese immigrants with condescension and racial slurs throughout the film, just to drive home the point.

For the most part, the devil-may-care bicycle courier Wilee lives in the white collar world. But when one package that’s supposed to be delivered into Chinatown proves more trouble than it’s worth, he returns it to sender and washes his hands of the whole affair … until …

At a pivotal moment, a troubled Chinese girl turns to him with tears in her eyes and defiantly challenges the New Yorker, “Why do you care?”

The question – which even more to the point would ask, “Do you care?” – rips Wilee from his white collar world and forces him to discover just how far he will go to help a “Samaritan” woman.

The film itself – outside of a distractingly excessive amount of obscenity – is largely enjoyable, though not exceptional. It’s a curious look at this bicycle courier underworld, packed with action and racing, with some quirky use of time, backstory and smart phone technology thrown in for spice. Mostly, it’s a fun little diversion that falls just a bit short of being as good as it could have been with just a touch more style and attention to scriptwriting.

And even though Wilee is driven mostly by a romanticist worldview, the film also celebrates doing the right thing, even in New York City, and even if you’re doing it for a Samaritan.

Content advisory: