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Ethan Hawke in a scene from The Purge.

Daniel Mcfadden/AP

2 out of 4 stars

The Purge
Written by
James DeMonaco
Directed by
James DeMonaco
Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey

The credits insist that director James DeMonaco penned the screenplay for The Purge, but any red-blooded Canuck will know better – this thing has got Don Cherry's name written all over it. The premise comes right out of Coach's Corner: Fighting is a necessary part of the game. It protects elite players. It limits the more covert violence that would otherwise run rampant. It "gives people a release." So, fans, gear up for rock-em-sock-em action, yet don't be disappointed if much of the goonery seems a bit tepid and, dare I say, staged. Rest assured, though, that there is a final buzzer.

Okay, I admit: In DeMonaco's hands, the Cherry philosophy has been slightly altered and stretched into a larger social arena. In 2022, a "reborn America" enjoys an annual rite of spring: the Purge, a 12-hour period when all laws are suspended, all cops are off duty, and all Yanks get to haul out their arsenal to commit murder and mayhem with impunity. Legally, only elite government officials are exempted as targets; practically, so are the elite rich, since they can afford the expensive security systems that let them bunker down safely for the occasion. And the result of this "countrywide catharsis?" Crimes rates have tumbled to negligible levels for the rest of the year.

Of course, being relatively defenceless, the poor and the sick are heavily culled, yet that too has a Darwinian benefit – lower unemployment rates. We learn this expository stuff early from a chattering TV set and, in a better mind than DeMonaco's, it might have made for an intriguingly dystopian picture. Instead, all he does is take an elaborate scenario and reduce it to a dull house-invasion flick, Straw Dogs with security cameras. Meet Dad (Ethan Hawke), Mom (Lena Headey), nubile daughter Zoey, and young son Charlie, who, being affluent, ramp up their steel shutters on Purge night and settle in far from the madding crowd.

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Oops, darned if that little Charlie, a liberal-leaning tyke, doesn't take pity on a homeless black guy and let him into the house. As bad luck would have it, homeless black guy is the very fellow being pursued by a rifle-toting gang of Young Conservatives, who want him "released or else." Their leader likes to dress well, maybe not Don Cherry well, but pretty nice. Blue blazer with crest, bright red tie, he's definitely a snappily attired goon.

Others on his team wear painted masks, and they aren't even goalies. No matter. Right quick, murder and mayhem ensue but, since the house is dark and DeMonaco insists on confusing us further with his jumpy hand-held camera, murder and mayhem barely go noticed. And when they do (excuse the repetition), their fights look staged to me. As for the absent cops, who cares – cops are always absent in the house-invasion genre.

Anyway, the game, sorry the movie, clocks in at a mere 85 minutes, one of those forgettable contests that at least has the merit of briskness. And when the last seconds tick down on sanctioned Purging, a final buzzer actually does sound. I was disappointed that the goons didn't dust themselves off and shake hands. But I know someone who won't be disappointed. Hunkered deep in his corner, the coach is smiling and giving two thumbs up.

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