June 13, 2013

'The Purge' bad from concept to execution


---- — “The Purge” was a bad idea from the beginning. Not just as a movie, but as a concept.

Sure, in “The Hunger Games,” teenagers fight to the death on TV, but you can see where in an alternate world that might sort of make sense, in a warped reality-television kind of a way.

The same with many other deadly sci-fi-concept films, like “Logan’s Run” (population control), “Soylent Green” (people are tasty) and even “The Running Man” (game shows are fun).

In what universe, real or imagined, however, would it be considered a good, healthy idea to make all crime legal for one 12-hour stretch per year, setting an entire nation loose to rape and murder with no repercussions? When would that make any sense?

In any case, that’s the gimmicky concept of “The Purge,” the least-interesting Ethan Hawke movie scheduled to open in June (“Before Midnight,” the finale of his romantic trilogy with Julie Delpy, is released this week).

The film is set in the distant future of … 2022? Apparently, nine years from now, the economy has bottomed out, sending our society into a death spiral that was halted and completely turned around by setting our citizens loose to create mayhem every March 22.

Now, unemployment is below 1 percent and crime is practically nonexistent. Completely implausible? You bet, but that’s what we’ve got.

Hawke plays James Sandin, a successful salesman of home-security systems, which, it turns out, aren’t really all that secure.

On the eve of this year’s Purge, James; his wife, Mary (“Game of Thrones’” Lena Headey); and their two mildly annoying teen children are barricaded in their fashionable home, waiting out the mayhem.

There’s an unexpected visitor in the house, though, and softhearted son Charlie (Max Burkholder) decides to let in a wounded homeless man.

A marauding group of well-armed young people, led by a creepy Rhys Wakefield (“Sanctum”), channeling his inner Heath Ledger, want to cleanse the world of the homeless man. If the Sandins won’t let him out, well, then they’ll come in and get him.

The film takes a game stab at poignancy and social commentary — hey, is this all a scheme to kill off the poor people? — but it doesn’t quite succeed, and soon “The Purge” stops trying altogether.

Not unexpectedly, the movie turns into a bloody and sadistic home-invasion film, and not in a particularly good way.

There’s a long stretch where the characters do things that don’t make much sense. Not just the sociopaths — they’re expected to behave erratically — but the normal people make lots of silly and inexplicable decisions, none of which can simply be explained away by saying “they were under pressure.”

It was a bad idea to make “The Purge;” watching it might be an even worse one.

Rental Recommendation: Stylistic youthful violence? I think there’s some in “A Clockwork Orange.” Grade: A.

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The Purge

Grade: C

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane

Rated: R (for strong disturbing violence and some language)

Running time: 85 minutes