This movie has it all: awful dialogue, wooden characters, irritating stereotyping, and a concept that’s way more interesting than what we end up getting. And yet…there’s something quite enjoyable about a movie like this, one that takes its world to extremes and delivers its messages with a sledgehammer. It’s not trying to be scary or subtle, and going into it thinking it’ll be one or the other is a recipe for disappointment (this should not be classified as horror, by the way). Do I wish a better writer/director helped this concept realize its full potential? Yes. Do I wish we got an intelligent and nuanced political satire? Of course. However, if I have to accept this movie for what it is, then my biggest criticism is that it doesn’t go even more over-the-top. Take stuff like the church scene and constantly pump it with drugs for 100 minutes, and that’s a movie I’d be excited to see.
Taken in its present and most basic form, it’s a pretty generic action thriller, but the concept allows DeMonaco to inject a fair number of interesting touches. There are good ideas here that don’t really lead anywhere–e.g. “murder tourists” making their way to the U.S. to purge–but the movie gets points for having those ideas in the first place. The fictional presidential election also serves as a nice backdrop here, and though the story may not be particularly insightful, it’s undoubtedly politically charged; that provides it an extra bite that helps it rise above its generic foundation. Elizabeth Mitchell is a solid Senator Roan, and Kyle Secor (playing Minister Edwidge Owens) is a hell of a lot of fun as he chews the scenery with everything he’s got. The black characters are so heavily stereotyped that their scenes are uncomfortably hilarious, but Mykelti Williamson–so great in Justified–brings a lot of charm to his role.
This is by no means a great movie. It’s not even good by conventional quality markers. However, there’s something endearing to me about the way it embraces its B-movie status, throwing its clunky dialogue and throwback action into a boiling pot of silly. Not all ideas stick–and some fall flat–but I’d take flashes of creativity surrounded by misfires any day over constant mediocrity. Some may argue that it’s trying to be smarter than it really is, but I have a slightly different perspective: it’s just dumb enough to be entertaining. If that means wasting a great concept, then so be it. At least they put in some effort.
Photo credit: Universal Pictures, The Purge: Election Year