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Five Reasons to Purge <i>The Purge</i> From Your Moviegoing Plans

James DeMonaco's near-future horror feature The Purge has the kind of highly unlikely, yet highly compelling high-concept premise that makes you sit up and say, "Okay... tell me more." Here's the sit-rep: a decade from now, American society has been completely transformed by the "new Founding Fathers" who rose to power out of the ashes of a conflict-torn, economically troubled nation and devised a radical new plan for ridding the streets of violent crime. One night a year, the citizenry is granted 12 glorious hours to let their inner bad guy run wild. Every potentially criminal act -- including robbery, rape and murder -- is 100 percent legal and carried out with the complete absence of law enforcement and emergency services. It may sound crazy, but according to The Purge, this act of purging one's pent-up anger (not to mention the weaker members of society who are the victims of this one-night crimewave) works. The U.S of A is once again a prosperous and stable country, a place where you can feel good about living, working and raising a family... provided they aren't all slaughtered in the annual purge, of course.

Sadly, the premise is the only interesting thing about The Purge, which very quickly devolves into a poorly-staged, narratively-challenged home invasion picture pitting a well-off family of four -- Dad is Ethan Hawke, Mom is Lena Headey and their two kids are Adeliade Kane and Max Burkholder -- against a crew of masked marauders (led by Aussie actor Rhys Wakefield, doing his best impression of a creepy Matt Smith) who are pursuing a purge victim (Edwin Hodge) who has taken up residence in their supposedly safe-as-houses house. I can understand still being attracted enough by the film's central idea to seek it out this weekend, but here are a five reasons why I'd recommend purging all thought of seeing The Purge from your mind.

There's Plenty of Set-Up, But No Follow-Through
The first 20 minutes of The Purge establish a number of potentially intriguing story threads that are either forgotten about, poorly addressed or outright ignored going forward. For example, it's intimated that, in his youth, Hawke's James Sandin -- who makes an exceptionally good living selling security systems to other upper-crust clans -- was once more of a firebrand liberal type, but has since begun toeing the Purge party line to the benefit his bank account, a betrayal of past values that has put him at odds with the rest of his family, including his wife. But that tension isn't dealt with any substantive way, with the family too-quickly rallying together when they go from observers to unwilling participants in the evening's Purge. Meanwhile, his son is introduced as having a flair for rigging up homemade gadgets, but then never makes any use of that skill beyond fashioning a roving, toy-mounted video camera and his daughter initially demonstrates a rebellious streak that promptly vanishes (along with her presence, for the most part) once the first act is over. I also kept waiting to learn what the deal was with the stranger they accidentally welcome into the house, anticipating that he'd become more than just a plot device. But no, much like the masked murderers who come a-calling, he's got zero personality, zero history and zero... well, point.

Nobody Seems Familiar With This House... Even the People Who Live There
It's understandable that a stranger would have trouble navigating an unfamiliar house, especially one as sizeable as the Sandin-owned mini-mansion. But when the Sandins themselves appear uncertain of the terrain they inhabit on a daily basis, you know the director has done a piss-poor job establishing the geography of the film's primary setting. Hallways seem to stretch on endlessly, the location of certain rooms keeps shifting and characters forever seem to be getting caught in blind spots where they can turn around and see that someone with a gun/axe/other sharp object is standing right behind them. DeMonaco pulls the latter stunt so often, I started to think that the Purge should be renamed "Stab Somebody in the Back Night." It's might be longer and less elegant, but a hell of a lot more accurate.

The Racial Politics Are Seriously Confused
Although never directly stated in the film, it's strongly implied that the Purge is a government-sanctioned attempt to allow the country's white population to actively drive down the rising number of minorities. It's no accident, for example, that the stranger who turns up on the Sandin's doorstep is a black man being pursued by preppy white college types. But that's not the offensive part; no, what really rankles is the way that the black victim is ultimately just used as a vehicle for the white characters' redemption. After initially intending to comply with the Purge partyers and hand the poor over -- even going so far as to strap him to a chair with duct tape -- James abruptly changes his mind and decides to fight back, as if he suddenly imagines himself to be some kind of civil rights hero. The stranger returns the favor later on in the movie, getting the chance to play rescuer in a key moment. But he's still never given a personality or even a name, instead appearing as "Bloody Stranger" in the closing credits. Like Bagger Vance and so many ill-considered Magical Negro types before him, his sole function in the movie is to improve the lives of this white family, an act of character assassination as unfortunate as any of the murders caused by the Purge.

It Wimpifies Cersei Lannister
Whether on Game of Thrones or her ferocious turn in last year's underrated Dredd, Lena Headey has solidified herself as a bad-ass of the highest order. Which is what makes her treatment here all the more disappointing. Despite having the physical and mental toughness to kick her onscreen husband's butt six ways from Sunday, Headey is mainly reduced to standing around alternately shrieking or sobbing while Hawke fights the good fight against the home invaders. It's understandable that she'd want to show there are more sides to her than Cersei and/or Sarah Connor, but this kind of thankless role represents a step backward rather than forward.

The Word of the Day is "Purge"
Obviously, the movie is set on Purge night so we're going to hear that word tossed around a certain amount. But the number of times that the characters utter "purge" during the course of the film's slender runtime is excessive even for a movie called The Purge. (It would be like if every other word in a Scream picture was "scream" this and "scream" that.) After sitting through 85 minutes of that, I'm about ready to purge that word from my vocabulary.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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