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Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:26 am

Purge lacks the strength of its flimsy convictions


James DeMonaco’s The Purge hints – and I mean hints – that it might be a socially relevant film that imagines that today’s divide between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” will develop into a blood sport in the near future. Its premise of Social Darwinism in action is an intriguing one and, in braver hands, could have resulted in a pointed indictment of the financial inequalities in our country. However, to take such a tack requires nerve, something DeMonaco lacks. His film takes the easy way out and proves to be nothing more than yet another senseless ode to violence.

The time is 2022 and things are looking up in the good ole U. S. of A. The crime rate has fallen to a record low and unemployment is down to 1 percent. Seems this is all due to a radical idea implemented by the New Founding Fathers known as the Purge, a single night where for a 12-hour period, anyone can commit any crime without fear of prosecution. Apparently, knowing that you have one evening to let loose keeps everyone in check for 364 1/2 days. How this leads to lower unemployment is something Alan Greenspan will have to explain because I don’t see the connection.

But why quibble about details when DeMonaco doesn’t. The film focuses on the Sandin family that lives in a gated community with the patriarch James (Ethan Hawke), a successful security systems salesman, Mary (Lena Headey), a homemaker who’s proud of her carb-free meals, Zoey (Adelaide Kane), the petulant daughter from central casting and Charlie (Max Burkholder), an introverted teenager whose sole function is to let a homeless man who’s being hunted during the Purge into the family’s home after they’ve holed up behind their steel windows and reinforced walls. This sets the plot, what there is of it, in motion as a group of prep school killers come calling, requesting that the Sandins throw their prey out so they can continue to purge. If their request isn’t met, then the family’s humble McMansion will be turned to rubble and they will be killed as well.

With only a modest $5 million budget to work with, DeMonaco’s intent is to make an effective, economical siege drama. Problem is that the plot devices he uses to move the story along simply don’t hold water. The fact that Mary can’t keep her daughter by her side, generating false tension as her father may shot her as he tries to find the unwanted intruder in their darkened home is insulting, while Charlie’s insistence on repeatedly treating common sense as a quality that’s to be ignored at every turn makes him immediate fodder for the next year’s purge. And while I liked the nihilistic turn DeMonaco trots out at the end, it proves to be anti-climactic after all the silliness we’ve endured.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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