The Purge: A Film Pre-Review


Hopefully, the film doesn’t run 12 hours.

After my first pre-viewing movie review, I received a request to pre-review™ the new Ethan Hawke film, The Purge.  As is my method, I have not seen this film.  After reading this pre-review, I may not want to see it, either.

The Purge stars Hawke, a movie star of sorts.  He was excellent in Training Day as a naive PCP-smoking cop who concludes his first day in Narcotics by shooting Denzel Washington in the ass.  He’s also been in other films, although I’m at a total loss to name one.  He was married to Uma Thurman at one point.  Uma is one of those people who looks much better in photos than live action, sort of like Gwyneth Paltrow.  Anyway, Hawke has to be a star if Uma married him.

The Purge is directed by James DeMonaco, of whom know I almost nothing.  According to the Internet Movie Database, he wrote The Negotiator, which I really liked.  He also wrote Jack, an atrocious film starring Robin Williams.  Jack centered around the humorous tale of a kid with some fast-aging disease.  Funny stuff.  How bad was it?  Diane Lane is in it, and I didn’t even care.  Inexplicably, it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola at what had to be the nadir of his career.  Imagine Martin Scorcese directing an Ace Venture sequel and you get the point. Oh, Jack was produced by Fred Fuchs.  That figures.

If I understand the trailer, The Purge is set is the near-future–I know that because there are no space ships and people aren’t wearing jumpsuits.  Unemployment and crime are at all-time lows because of the “Purge.”  During the Purge nothing is illegal and all emergency services are cancelled.  You can just run wild and kill people.  Most of the action looks like it takes place at night.  The movie poster says that it lasts 12 hours–the Purge, not the film (hopefully).

The Purge is some kind of cathartic exercise which keeps the country calm the rest of the year.  Don’t buy the hype that this is an “original” idea.  My best friend growing up–Jimmy–had this idea first.  When we were in high school, Jimmy wanted one day a year when we could just kill anyone we wanted.  He theorized that we had so much violence in our home county because, if you hated someone, there was no way to avoid that person.  Eventually, something had to give.  So, this idea isn’t original.  As an unrelated aside, he also suggested replacing the electric chair with “death by bear trap,” where the condemned would be thrown into a pit full of bear traps. Jimmy thought that would be more humane.  That’s questionable, but I still consider him to be the Father of Lethal Injection.

Hawke is the father of a nice, normal-looking family.  They lock down their house during the Purge and wait it out.  Some dude gets in their house right before lock down and other marauders terrorize the family during the Purge.  Michael Bay produced this film, so there are probably a lot of explosions.

Here’s what’s bound to happen.  This hapless interloper is probably not that bad guy, although the Hawke family is terrified of him.  They debate throwing him to the mob or maybe just killing him themselves. They might even try to kill each other.  Lots of stuff happens–attacks, injuries, killings, etc.  Eventually, Hawke realizes that his nice little family isn’t much different from the bloodthirsty goons on the street.  Other stuff happens and the movie ends.  Important lessons are learned about the true nature of humans.

The bad guys wear masks, but I can’t figure out why.  I thought everything was legal.  Why the masks?  I guess that just makes them scarier.  Without seeing the film, it’s hard to say, really.

Murderous goons on the prowl.  This isn't nearly as scary as Halloween in Harlan County

Murderous goons on the prowl. This isn’t nearly as scary as Halloween in Harlan County

I must praise Hawke’s performance here.  Normally, he portrays a disheveled, grungy-looking guy in need of a close shave and a good conditioner.  From what I can tell, he’s pretty clean-cut here.  That’s a stretch for him, and one must respect that.  On the downside, he’s still kind of squinty-eyed and fairly incomprehensible when he talks.

Looking at the cast for the film, I note that one character is named “Zoey.”  This is an obvious and shameless attempt to deceive the public into believing that Zooey Deschanel is in this film.  She is not–or at least she isn’t in the credits.  So, don’t go to this film expecting to see the charming and beguiling Zooey.  Shame on Michael Bay for engaging in such fraud in order to sell a film.

It also should be noted that Julianne Hough is not in this film.  I like her and want her in more films–every film, in fact.  How hard would it have been to write a dancing scene?  If you’re locked down all night, you’d get bored. Dancing would be a good way to kill time.

I have to ask a question about the plot:  Why the hell would this Purge work?  I grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky, where we were in a state of almost constant Purge, and it didn’t seem to help crime OR unemployment.  If people go bat-shit crazy for 12 hours, do they just calm down afterwards?  Maybe there is some kind of Draconian police state that takes care of that.  If so, why even have the Purge?  The whole thing seems rife with problems.  It’s just not realistic.

It’s a close call, but I can’t recommend The Purge.  On the one hand, I am pleased to see my friend’s idea come to the Big Screen some 35 years after the fact.  On the other hand, I haven’t seen the film, so there’s that.  Ethan Hawke is a plus, because of Training Day–I like all films starring Denzel Washington.  Characters such as “Bloody Stranger” and “Interrupting Freak” are intriguing, too.  But, there’s Jack to consider, too.

I give The Purge a 4.25.


An Updated Review of Rain Man

In light of recent events, the media has focused on autism, particularly Asperger’s Syndrome. In the haste to break the latest “news,” accuracy has been sacrificed for speed. Asperger’s is being portrayed as an excuse for the inexcusable. In truth, the unspeakable crimes of recent days have nothing to do with this condition. This misinformation has made me wonder how one of my favorite films, Rain Man, would be viewed through today’s prism. If Rain Man were released today, I think the review would read like this:


Rain Man is the latest film from Barry Levinson, known for such diverse output as Diner, Good Morning Vietnam and The Natural. This time, he takes on the difficult subject of mental illness with decidedly mixed results. Dustin Hoffman is excellent in the role of Raymond Babbitt, a psychotic middle-aged man. Tom Cruise, best known for Risky Business and Top Gun, is Hoffman’s equal as Charlie, Raymond’s brother. Unfortunately, these stellar performances are weighted down by Levinson’s unrealistic take on a serious subject and a script best described as a work of pure fantasy.

Charlie is the Narcissistic son of the recently deceased Sanford Babbitt who leaves his $3,000,000 estate to a Cincinnati mental institution while Charlie receives only a vintage Buick Roadmaster and some prize rose bushes. Charlie immediately travels to the hospital to get to the bottom of his father’s inexplicable largesse. At the hospital, which is clearly a hospital for the criminally insane, Charlie discovers his long-lost brother Raymond. Raymond, he learns, has been in the hospital for many years. The horrific crime committed by Raymond is never fully explained.

Outraged that his father has left millions to care for his homicidal brother, Charlie kidnaps Raymond and sets out for Los Angeles. In a particularly disturbing scene where Raymond has a dangerous psychotic episode, Charlie decides not to fly to LA, no doubt realizing that Raymond poses a grave threat to the safety of the passengers. Thus, Charlie, his girl friend (the lovely Valeria Golino from Big Top Pee Wee) and the unhinged Raymond set out cross-country in Charlie’s Buick.

After a series of misadventures, Charlie learns that Raymond is an autistic savant with amazing abilities to recall dates and make complex mathematical calculations. During a chilling scene where Raymond flies into a rage of violent insanity, Charlie learns that Raymond was actually hospitalized for attempting to murder him when Charlie was an infant.

Early in the film, Levinson builds a tense story reminiscent of Psycho. Then, he loses his nerve and Rain Man becomes little more than a modern-day Road Movie where the audience must suspend disbelief for such diversions as a trip to Las Vegas. The thought that a shallow character like Charlie could keep a raging maniac like Raymond at bay is at best laughable. In one particularly inane scene, Raymond actually visits the home of complete strangers. Does he strangle the family or perhaps hack them to pieces, as the story to that point would dictate? No. He watches TV with them. Imagine Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre attending a church fish fry and you get the idea of the grotesque and inappropriate imagery.

By the end of the film, Levinson abandons any effort to bring realism to the film The penultimate scene involves a show down over the inheritance, pitting Charlie against the hospital. I won’t give away the ending other than to note that it was a crushing disappointment. Raymond, having been led across the country like a mad dog on a VERY short leash, sits passively while the action takes place around him. Just at the moment when logic and the story itself dictate a hail of gun fire, the directors cops out for saccharine sweet ending. I have no respect for film makers who won’t stay true to their own story. The only reason I don’t give away the ending is that it is so ridiculous no one would believe it. Just as Levinson did with The Natural–by tacking on a Hollywood ending and rendering his source material unrecognizable–he does the same here turning homicidal psychopathy into little more than a series of parlor tricks.

Every so often, a director has a chance to explore the inner workings of the mind of a psychotic without exploiting the story (Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood). Rather than take that bold leap, Levinson settles for a cheap story of a lovable misanthrope played for laughs and manipulated for false sentimentality. It’s a shame that Hoffman’s and Cruise’s fine performances end up obliterated by the nonsense of the story.

Not since Hogan’s Heroes treated Nazism as sitcom material has the public been subjected to such baffling artistic judgment. Levinson has made fine films and may well do so again. If Rain Man interests you, I suggest you search for a copy of the Jerry Lewis’s lost classic, The Day The Clown Cried, about a clown in a Nazi concentration camp. I guarantee it is more believable.

Unfortunately, today’s news is just as inane and inaccurate as this review.
© 2012