NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by L
Note: The Story jumps in chronology and location throughout the film. The scenes are presented here as the film presents them.
Wilee (Joseph Gordon Levitt) spirals slowly through the air before crashing into the ground. His bike crumples to the ground nearby, and the taxi cab that’s hit him screeches to a halt. Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) fights tears as Wilee’s eyes close.
EARLIER - Wilee weaves through traffic on his bike. A messenger by choice, he doesn’t believe in brakes or gears only the thrill of riding through the busy New York streets. He arrives at his destination and drops off a package, only to learn that his next delivery has been stolen by his rival, Manny (Wole Parks). He cycles back towards the delivery headquarters and calls Manny, trying to get the package back. Manny tells him that the package is his and so is Wilee’s girlfriend, Vanessa.
ACROSS TOWN Officer Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) is in a Chinese gambling den trying and failing to master Gow. Soon, he’s 17 grand in the hole to Mr. Lin, the establishment’s owner. The Floor Manager tells Monday that he can square his debt with Mr. Lin by serving as an enforcer and stealing a ticket that is worth 50 grand. Monday resists. Instead, he takes a loan from a local Shark and goes across the street to try his luck in a different den.
VANESSA’S APARTMENT Vanessa is packing up her things when her roommate, Nima (Jamie Chung), returns and apologizes for kicking Vanessa out. Vanessa doesn’t understand why she needs to leave, but Nima assures her that it is a personal issue and not about Vanessa at all. Nima goes into her room and takes 50 grand out of a small lock box under her bed, stuffing them into a bag. Vanessa sees the cash and tries to find out how Nima got it, but Nima tells her to mind her own business. She tells Vanessa she is going down the street to the local nail salon.
Monday loses all the money he borrowed. Two of Mr. Lin’s enforcers beat him up outside, knocking out one of Monday’s molars. Pissed, he proceeds to lecture them on what they can and can’t do to a New York Cop who owes them money. He pistol whips one and slams the other head first into the back of a truck until blood starts running out the man’s nose. He calls the Floor Manager to learn more about the ticket.
Nima arrives at the salon and is taken into a garden out back. She is introduced to a money launderer named Mr. Leung through his associate The Sudoku Man. Explaining that she was sent by a woman named “Sister Chen”, claiming that Mr. Leung’s service was the only way she would accept Nima’s money. Mr. Leung is curious as to how Nima got the money and Nima elaborates: by working three jobs.
Monday arrives at Nima’s apartment and knocks. Vanessa answers the door and Monday introduces himself as a member of the NYPD.
Mr. Leung gives her a movie stub and draws a smiley face. He tells her that the stub is now money and whoever brings it back to him will get her money. As she leaves, Mr. Leung stops her to give her his card and tell her the police cannot help her if she runs into trouble but The Sudoku Man can. He tells her that if there is any way she can send the stub to Sister Chen without being seen doing so, she should consider that as an option since men would be willing to kill for that much money.
Nima leaves the salon only to notice Monday cruise by in his car. He pulls over to the side of the road and approaches her. Seeing a bus across the street, she drops her backpack and runs across the street while Monday tears it apart, only to find it empty.
Wilee returns to the delivery headquarters and complains to their dispatcher Raj (Aasif Mandvi) about Manny’s behavior. Tough. Wilee begs for another drop off so that he can get some more money. Raj blows him off, so Wilee heads over to Vanessa in the backroom where she is fixing a broken bike wheel. He asks her why she’s ignoring all hi apologies but Vanessa brushes him off, resisting Wilee’s charms. At that moment, Nima calls the delivery service and asks if Wilee is there: she needs him to deliver a package.
Raj tells Wilee that he’s in luck. His “alma mater” calls. Hoping on a bike, he tears off towards NYU Law when Vanessa decides to call him. She berates him for skipping her graduation as it was an important moment for her. He apologizes but thinks that the worker hive mind mentality destroys a person’s sense of adventure. The only reason he’s not a lawyer is because he saw wearing a suit and tie at his age as the equivalent of criminal insanity. He tells her that they get paid to ride, and that’s a beautiful thing. Vanessa corrects him and says that the only reason she rides is so she won’t have to wait tables.
Wilee arrives at the school and is surprised to see that it’s Nima giving him the package. She insists that he must reach the destination by 7 pm and give it only to Sister Chen. Wilee has her sign, gives her a receipt and exits the building, passing Monday on the way out. Before he reaches his bike, he sees a burrito vendor on the side of the road and decides to buy one.
Monday corners Nima, shows his badge and tells her that he is an IRS agent investigating Mr. Leung and his Hawada laundering network. He implies that Nima is an illegal immigrant and can be deported, despite her protests that she has her student visa at home. Nima calls bullshit on Monday’s story by identifying his badge as that of an NYPD officer. He drags her into a private room and chokes her until she drops the receipt on the ground. Monday leaves her hurt, but alive.
Monday catches Wilee before he leaves the campus and identifies himself as the head of campus security, claiming Nima was not authorized to deliver the package on the student account. He asks for the ticket, but Wilee simply bolts and gives him the slip. As he races away, Monday gives pursuit. Wilee employs some creative tactics to evade Monday, even going so far as to slip into oncoming traffic just so Monday can’t pursue. He causes an accident, incurring the wrath of a Bike Cop (Christopher Place) who proceeds to give chase.
Back at the university, Vanessa drops in to talk to Nima and finds her applying cool water pads to her neck in the bathroom. She demands to know what is going on, and Nima reluctantly agrees to tell her.
Monday cuts through a side street and slams into Wilee gently, allowing him to roll over his hood. Wilee scrambles to his feet, sliding behind the car and taking a photo of the license plate without looking. He bolts when given the opportunity and proceeds to evade both Monday and the irritated Bike Cop. The Bike Cop chases him right up until Wilee maneuvers through heavy traffic and passes a taxi right as a passenger gets out, causing the Bike Cop to hit the door and crash into the ground.
Wilee immediately goes to the police station to have Monday arrested. The secretary at the desk ignores him, and Wilee goes to wait by the vending machine. Staring at the food and remembering that he lost his lunch, he buys a sandwich only to see Monday enter in the reflection of the glass. Monday doesn’t notice him and is distracted by two colleagues who were assigned to look into the brutal beating of the Chinese enforcer outside Mr. Lin’s gambling den. Wilee slips into the bathroom while Monday retreats to his desk.
Ripping open the envelope, Wilee is confused by the ticket stub. He calls Raj to ask why the fuck he’s carrying a package with such shady contents. Raj just assumes it’s college kids transporting drugs and agrees to let Wilee return the package to the school where someone else can pick it up and deliver it.
At his desk, Monday is panicking when he remembers the receipt. He calls Raj and pretends to be the dean of the school. He changes the delivery address on the package, and Raj sends Manny out to pick up the envelope from the school.
Wilee is about to unchain his bike when he notices Bike Cop returning to the precinct. As he hides, Monday exits the building and recognizes Wilee’s bike. He rushes back in to look for Wilee. Wilee almost makes a clean getaway but the Bike Cop sees him and gives chase. This time, Wilee cuts through a park and jumps a small gate which the Bike Cop crashes into. He pursues Wilee on foot but loses him near a group of school buses. The kids point the cop in the wrong direction as Wilee holds onto the side of a departing bus and coasts.
Returning the letter, he bumps into Nima and sarcastically thanks her for risking his life. Nima runs into the office to get the letter, but Manny has already taken it and left. She breaks down near the elevators, forcing Wilee to ask what’s so important about a ticket stub. When Nima was younger, she wrote a paper about Tibet which was published after she left China. Her son, who was supposed to be able to travel with her, has been kept as a political prisoner and denied an exit visa by China. The money was going to allow her to smuggle the boy and her mother into the United States where they would all be able to live legally thanks to her visa. Taking pity on her, Wilee agrees to get it back and deliver it.
Wilee chases Manny down and tries to explain the situation, but Manny just wants to race, jealous of Vanessa’s rebuff of his advances and the affection that everyone gives Wilee. Wilee agrees, and races Manny throughout the city, losing for a good portion of the race until Bike Cop appears and chases both riders through the streets. As they reach Monday’s destination, Wilee takes the lead and the Bike Cop catches and tackles Manny to the ground. Monday makes a grab for Manny’s backpack, but Wilee beats him to it with the help of Vanessa. A cop car appears at the end of the street, sealing them in and forcing Wilee and Vanessa to seek refuge in a dead end alley.
Wilee quickly wraps up the envelope and slides it into his handle bars. He gives Vanessa Manny’s messenger bag and tells her that they need to cut through Monday and his reinforcements. They speed past and manage to avoid getting caught, only for Wilee’s risky maneuver to backfire: he drives straight into oncoming traffic and is hit by the taxi cab from earlier. As his eyes close, he hears Vanessa’s voice.
FLASHBACK Wilee and Vanessa are at a makeshift award ceremony for delivery couriers. They flirt and end up making out right as Wilee’s announced as the winner of the competition and given his signature bike. Manny watches on with jealousy while Wilee explains that he has never had an accident since removing his brakes because he has always felt that brakes are death.
Wilee awakens in pain on a stretcher and immediately asks for his bike. Manny is screaming at the Bike Cop and threatening to sue the police department before he is put in the back of a car. A cop packs Wilee’s bike away and drives it to an impound lot so that Bike Cop can have the last laugh after Wilee gets out of the hospital. Vanessa pursues the cop car while Monday gets into the ambulance with Wilee.
On the way to the hospital, Monday applies pressure to Wilee’s bruised ribs threatening that enough pressure could drive a rib through Wilee’s lung. After some interrogation, Wilee makes a deal: If Monday takes Wilee to his bike he will give Monday the ticket. Monday agrees.
Wilee is treated to the hospital and driven out with Monday to the impound lot. Wilee tells Monday that the ticket is in Manny’s bag so Wilee is escorted into the lot to find his bike while Monday waits for the cop car carrying Manny to arrive.
Slipping towards the back of the impound lot, Vanessa finds the bike just as the cops arrive with Wilee. Wilee sees his bike has been beat to shit by the impact and doesn’t find the ticket. Vanessa gets his attention and shows him that she has the ticket. He climbs up gingerly and kisses her, taking the ticket and a new bike from the bike cage.
Monday searches Manny’s bag and doesn’t find the envelope. He runs into the impound lot to find Wilee escaping by riding over impounded vehicles towards the exit. Several officers give chase, and as Wilee begins his escape, Monday has the head officer close the gates of the impound lot. Wilee sails over the head of Bike Cop who exasperatedly screams that he gives up. The gate closes just as Wilee sails through, and he’s off to deliver the package.
Nima calls The Sudoku Man from Central Station to inform him of the situation. Mr. Leung sends the Sudoku Man to help recover the ticket.
IN CHINA Nima’s son and her elderly mother are denied entrance to a shipping freighter. They are told they are not on the list and will have to wait until they captain gets the go ahead from Sister Chen.
6:38 Wilee reteams with Vanessa and tells her that Monday won’t stop until he has the ticket. He sends her back to Raj and uses Raj to rally all the couriers in New York for a flash mob.
6:50 - As Wilee arrives in Chinatown, he arrives at his destination only for Monday to be waiting. Monday tells Wilee that the residents of Chinatown never talk, so if Monday wanted to shoot Wilee and claim that Wilee attacked him that would be the official story. Vanessa leads the Flash mob of bikers into the alley just in time and the bikers cycle around Monday, smacking him repeatedly. Wilee walks into the restaurant and finds Sister Chen, giving her the ticket. Sister Chen makes the call, allowing the little boy and his grandmother to board the ship.
Outside, the bikers all ride away except for Vanessa. Monday picks himself up, only to see the Loan Shark and the enforcer he pistol whipped approaching with threatening looks. Monday angrily screams that they can’t touch him since he’s a cop with a silenced SHOT rings out. The Sudoku Man stands behind Monday with a gun drawn and lets a phone book with a bullet hole fall to the ground. Monday doesn’t quite understand that he’s been shot in the head and collapses while begging for a little bit of time to think.
Wilee exits the restaurant and falls into Vanessa’s arms kissing her passionately as Nima arrives at the scene. Ignoring Monday’s body, the three leave happily knowing that Nima’s family will soon be joining her.
Wilee continues delivering packages and riding through New York City, acknowledging that one day he’ll have to put on the suit and tie to make something of himself, but for now, he just wants to enjoy the ride.