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Anarchy, American-style The Purge'

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Near-future thriller doesn't quite deliver

It can be easy to feel like every story has been told before especially in an era when the recycling of ideas is a cottage industry in the entertainment world. So when an interesting twist on an old idea comes along, it can pique your interest. We all want to see something new or at least something old done in a new way.

'The Purge' wants to be that movie. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite pull it off.

In 2022, America has eradicated many of its societal problems. Crime is almost unheard of. Unemployment is below one percent. It has done this by way of an annual event conceived by the 'New Founding Fathers' known as 'The Purge.'

Once a year, for a 12-hour stretch, rule of law is essentially suspended. Police officers stand down and hospitals refuse admission. Americans are allowed encouraged actually to act out all the dark desires of their hearts and release their inner rage.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, 'Before Midnight') sells security systems a big deal in a world where once a year, anyone who wants to can kill you. He and his wife (Lena Headey, TV's 'Game of Thrones') are hunkering down with their two kids to ride out the storm of the Purge in safety.

However, when a hunted drifter finds his way into their house, the Sandins find themselves involved. And when the hunters a bunch of entitled rich kids show up demanding their prey, the Sandins find themselves locked in a battle for their survival and their souls.

'The Purge' is basically a home invasion movie with an interesting concept behind it. The idea of a government-sanctioned crime spree is one that has legs. Some might complain that the film doesn't spend enough time explaining itself in terms of that concept, but there's something to be said for being simply dropped into a world. A film like this is big on the 'what ifs' but unconcerned with the 'whys' too much exposition and this sort of story becomes labored.

Hawke has been hit or miss for me for a long time; he's mostly 'hit' here. There's an inherent genuineness to him that works well in this sort of thriller; earnestness abounds. Headey does a fair job as well, but she's going to have to do something much bigger and better to allow me to see her as anything other than the creepy incest queen of 'GoT'. The kids played by Adelaide Kane ('Donner Pass') and Max Burkholder (TV's 'Parenthood') are passable; they essentially exist to give Hawke and Headey something to be concerned about.

Edwin Hodge (TV's 'Cougar Town') is OK as the hunted drifter (who at one point inexplicably disappears from the story for about half an hour, by the way), while Rhys Wakefield ('Nobody Walks') is dialed-to-11 creepy as the leader of the hunters; his implacable politeness is legitimately unsettling at times.

Still, 'The Purge' never quite manages to hit all of the notes that it is clearly striving for. It's a valiant effort, and there are stretches especially at the beginning when you can really see what this movie wanted to be. But too often, it falls back into safety, recycling genre tropes and generally letting us off easy. It seems like this film began as something quite dark, but that darkness has been bled away through the creative process and left a passable thriller with a few 'gotcha' moments, a couple of decent performances and more than one significant plot hole. While it is entertaining enough, it never feels like the quasi-Orwellian allegory it was clearly meant to be.

All in all, 'The Purge' isn't a bad movie. It's a decent hour-and-a-half of entertainment. It just isn't nearly as good a film or as important a film as it thinks it is.

[3 out of 5]

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