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edge staff writer


‘The Binge’ is not worthy

August 31, 2020
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Sometimes, genre mixing works beautifully in movies. Bringing together seeming disparate influences to create something new can be exciting as well as entertaining. In the right hands and with the right ideas, such mashups can prove to be real winners. But when those efforts go awry, you’re often left with misfires that are significantly less than the sum of their genre parts.

Basically, you’re left with movies like “The Binge.”

This weird mélange of raunchy teen comedy and “The Purge” is currently streaming on Hulu. Directed by Jeremy Garelick from a screenplay by Jordan VanDina, “The Binge” is an at-times pantingly obvious effort to riff on the latter using the trappings of the former. Unfortunately, the pieces never quite fit together properly – the film is neither funny enough nor Purge-y enough to effectively land.

It’s unfortunate, really. It’s relatively easy to see some potential in the foundational concepts here, but the filmmakers never manage to realize that potential. There are a handful of amusing moments, though those are born more of incredulity than genuine humor. Ultimately, it’s a disposable entry into the “best night ever” subgenre of teen comedy that will almost immediately be remanded to the dustbin, a forgettable shoulder-shrug of a film.

The year is 2032 (although it looks an awful lot like now). The United States has engaged in an all-encompassing return to prohibition – all alcohol and recreational narcotics have been rendered illegal. However, the law includes a caveat. One night a year, it is all made legal again for a 12-hour period. Anyone who is 18 years of age or older may partake in whatever substances they can obtain.

This day is known as The Binge.

Griffin (Skyler Gisondo, TV’s “The Righteous Gemstones”) is a senior at American High School. He’s a good kid with good grades; he’s already been accepted to Brown for the fall. He’s also madly in love with Lena (Grace Van Dien, “Lady Driver”), his friend since childhood who also happens to be the daughter of Principal Carlsen (Vince Vaughn, “Arkansas”), a vocal opponent of The Binge.

However, Griffin’s best pal Hags (Dexter Darden, “Son of the South”) is adamant that the two of them are going to Binge for all they’re worth. Specifically, he wants them to engage in the Gauntlet, a Binge-night competition whose winners become local legends. Despite Griffin’s misgivings, he agrees to give it a go – mostly because he wants to finally ask Lena to prom.

Thanks to an increasingly unlikely set of circumstances, the two wind up with class weirdo Andrew (Eduardo Franco, “Booksmart”) tagging along with them as they struggle to make their way to the party. They’re left to overcome numerous obstacles along the way, including mean girls and car crashes and Andrew’s evil twin half-brother Seb (Esteban Benito, “Big Time Adolescence”). Meanwhile, in a parallel quest, Principal Carlsen is out and about, searching for his daughter and her erstwhile beau – all while harboring his own secrets regarding the Binge.

All of this is rendered even more complicated by the fact that Griffin, Hags and Andrew wind up more and more impaired as the night goes on. Booze galore and all manner of drugs – pot, pills, hallucinogens, you name it – are on the docket as they stumble their way through a night to remember … that they probably won’t remember.

“The Binge” isn’t a terrible movie. There are a few laughs to be had, even if they are more cringe-induced than anything. And again, the basic concept is solid – this kind of parodic repurposing of Purge fundamentals offers plenty of possibility. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem content to simply use this interesting backdrop as nothing more than a place into which they can drop the standard teens-gone-wild formulaic nonsense.

Obviously, I don’t need this movie to put forward some sort of grand and important message. No one’s asking for that. But would it have killed them to actually put some effort into more fully embracing the central conceit? By mostly ignoring the setting, we’re left with a film that feels like the usual party movie, only more absurd and logistically questionable.

Performance-wise, it’s fine. Gisondo works as the sort of dorky protagonist that we always see in this sort of movie. Ditto Darden as the wannabe-cool-but-even-dorkier sidekick. They’re good together, with decent chemistry. And Franco gets a couple of the movie’s bigger laughs with his deadpan commitment to non sequitur weirdness. Van Dien is fine, but she and the rest of the film’s female characters are essentially one-dimensional. As for Vaughn, we get some pretty significant BDE (Big Dad Energy) from him for most of the run before an altogether predictable turn in the movie’s final act – a final act, I might add, that was the closest the movie came to fully embracing its premise.

(Oh, and just to reinforce the disclaimer at the film's beginning - the narrator is NOT, repeat, NOT Morgan Freeman.)

“The Binge” tries to give us “Superbad” by way of “The Purge,” but falls far short of the bar set by either. Instead of something new or at least interesting, we get a teen movie retread that relies far too heavily on its premise to set it apart. It’s a mushy excuse for a mashup, a tame try at parody. You’ve seen it all before … and you probably don’t need to see it again.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 31 August 2020 10:03

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