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This Week at the Movies

'Premium Rush' provides modest thrills, while 'Compliance' is manipulative and 'The Apparition' is a silly tale of possession.

"Premium Rush" wins this weekend's cinematic sweepstakes by simply not being terrible, but it's no more than an average thriller with some terrific stunts.

The picture stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a New York City bike messenger who finds himself being stalked by a loose cannon detective (Michael Shannon) after a package he is supposed to deliver turns out to be worth a lot of money.

To its credit, the film is fast paced and, at a brisk 91 minutes, lean. At its best, the movie is pretty tense and features some incredible bike-related stunt work. It's refreshing to see a film with special effects involving actual human beings as opposed to those of the digital realm.

On the other hand, the film often requires viewers to take some great leaps of faith in terms of its plot and its storytelling structure is a bit fragmented as it criss crosses throughout the course of the day in which it is set.

"Premium Rush" may have been produced for a fraction of what it cost to make most of this summer's blockbusters, but it is similar to most of the tent pole films of the past few months in that it provides some modest delights, but is mostly just average.

And yet while I had a bit of difficulty swallowing some of the sequences in "Premium Rush," I found myself significantly more exasperated by the supposedly "factual" events of "Compliance."

For those not in the know, Craig Zobel's drama has become one of the most debated pictures of the past few months, inspiring audience members to shout out their comments during its Sundance Film Festival screening earlier this year.

In the film, fast food restaurant manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a policeman who tells her that one of her employees - Becky (Dreama Walker) - has stolen money from a customer's purse.

Becky is detained in one of the store's back rooms and watched over by several others, including a male pal, another female employee, Sandra and, much later, Sandra's drunken boyfriend.

The demands from the "policeman" become increasingly sleazy as he asks Sandra and company to take away Becky's phone and purse and then perform a strip search. As the evening rolls along, Becky is humiliated and, eventually, a sexual assault occurs.

I understand what Zobel is going for here. Similar to the Stanford psychology experiment during which a group of participants were made guards and inmates, "Compliance" aims to show how quickly people give in to dark impulses after they are given a little power and how readily individuals are willing to do horrible things when ordered to do so by an authority figure.

We are told that Zobel's film is based on a true incident. And while that may be so, I stopped believing the events unfolding in "Compliance" after about 20 minutes. Eventually, the demands from the man on the phone become completely egregious and the film's characters - Becky included, to an extent - behave so stupidly that I just wasn't buying it.

The actors, especially Dowd, give commendable performances. But the film is manipulative as it attempts to force viewers to question how they'd respond to the situation. What exactly is the point of showing that the caller is a "family man" or include a scene in which Becky talks about her exploits with multiple suitors?

"Compliance" is a faux provocation that attempts to implicate its audience for watching grotesque human behavior. But Zobel is the one who decided to make a movie about this, so what does that say?

Last - and most likely least - on this weekend's roster is "The Apparition," a nonsensical horror movie about a couple being haunted by a malevolent otherworldly presence, which manifests itself as a large blob of mold.

Although the film is thankfully not a found footage horror film, it begins with a filmed experiment during which three characters call upon a demon to come forth into the world of the living. One of them gets sucked into a wall.

A short while later, a young woman (Ashley Greene) and her boyfriend, who was one of the experimenters from the film's opening scene, begin hearing bumps in the night in their new home.

Clothes get shredded, a poor fluffy puppy dies of fright and a chest of drawers moves a whole foot across the floor! And, then there's the mold, which makes for the most absurd horror movie villain since "The Happening," during which the flora attempted to kill off the fauna.

You may close your eyes during "The Apparition," but I doubt it will be out of fright.

"Premium Rush" is playing at AMC Loews Bay Terrace 6 and "The Apparition" is screening at Astoria's UA Kaufman Stadium 14. "Compliance" is playing at Manhattan's Sunshine Cinema.

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