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Entries in the purge (2)

Thursday
Aug292013

Getaway

Despite a filmography that consists of a few stinkers, Ethan Hawke is a daring actor, mainly because he isn’t afraid to plant himself in all kinds of different films. In the last three alone, he has starred in a home invasion thriller (“The Purge”) a wonderful romantic drama (“Before Midnight”) and an intensely frightening supernatural horror movie (“Sinister”). He’s drawn to ideas, even if the final product encompassing those ideas isn’t always successful, like the aforementioned “The Purge” or 2009’s alternate take on vampire mythology “Daybreakers.” This leads me to wonder why he would ever agree to star in something like this week’s “Getaway,” a derivative, brainless action film with zero ideas and only the thinnest of stories. After seeing “Before Midnight,” it was obvious he was going to appear on my obligatory best-of list at the end of the year. After watching “Getaway,” it’s now apparent he’ll also appear on my worst.

The film has a nifty stylized, black and white opening that begins in a wrecked apartment with blood and broken glass everywhere. Initially a first person view, it eventually transitions to a third person view where we first see our protagonist, an ex-racecar driver, Brent (Ethan Hawke). It’s his apartment that he shares with his wife, who has been abducted by a mysterious man for unknown reasons. Cut not too far in the future and he finds himself in a game where he has to use his driving talents to pull off certain jobs and if he calls the cops or is caught, his wife dies.

And thus begins a movie with no plot structure, no flow, wimpy dialogue and annoying characters so inconsequential and uninteresting that one of the two main ones isn’t even given a name, an 18 year old girl that IMDB so aptly classifies as “The Kid” (Selena Gomez). Yet the nameless character isn’t the biggest problem, but rather her and Brent’s utter lack of personality. It must be no more than a few minutes in before Brent is racing away from cop cars through a darkened Bulgaria, so no time is taken to truly characterize this man and make him someone we should care about. A mid-movie sob story about why he gave up racing is so forced in as to be almost comical. Similarly, the first time we meet his wife, she’s being dragged screaming down a dank, decrepit hallway by two goons who lock her up for safe keeping. It’s obviously not an ideal scenario for any person, but who exactly is she? If not for the mysterious voice on the other end that helpfully labels her as Brent’s wife, we would have never even known, given that they don’t share a single minute of screen time prior to the kidnapping.

To be fair to the film, it’s not like it has high aspirations. It knows it’s a big, stupid action picture and it plays it up for all it’s worth, creating high octane chases through narrow alleyways, cluttered highways and crowded parks at seemingly every turn. It never takes the time to make these scenes work in conjunction with what little story it has, though, instead opting to make The Kid a genius tech geek, able to hack into security networks with nary a plausible explanation, no doubt a quick and accessible way to bypass all that pesky talking. But none of these scenes work because it never truly feels like the characters are in any real danger, given the incompetent police force chasing them. At one point, after he slams into a cop car, The Kid remarks that he just committed assault with a deadly weapon, which gives the police the authority to shoot at them, yet they never do. Never does it come to mind that perhaps they could take out a tire or two, effectively ending his rampage. The only ones that are smart enough to pull out their guns are the mysterious voice’s hired hands, but even they only shoot at the body of the car, despite the knowledge that the car is armored. The worst driver in the world would be able to escape such idiotic opposition.

If there was some type of skill put behind the crafting of these action scenes, many of these problems could be ignored, but such a reality is quickly dashed. Directed by Courtney Solomon, whose only other directing credits include 2000’s abominable “Dungeons & Dragons” and 2005’s equally bad “An American Haunting,” has no idea how to stage an action scene to elicit excitement. Instead, it’s the editing that hopes to manufacture it in a thinly veiled attempt to hide the fact that what’s going on isn’t really all that interesting. The scenes are cut in rapid succession similar to the shootouts in 2009’s “Gamer,” to the point where you can barely even register certain shots before they disappear. If some of these shots were any shorter, they’d be subliminal.

Then the twist comes and the mystery man is revealed, not that we actually know who that man is as a character. The reveal is more one of the actor playing the mystery man, which means little to nothing in the big scheme of things. Strangely enough, questions are left unanswered, which is tough to do in a movie with such little plot to speak of, though you likely won’t care enough to have them answered anyway. When the movie ends, the title card flashes onscreen once more, almost as if it’s telling you to get away as fast as you can. You likely won’t need to be told twice.

Getaway receives 0.5/5

Friday
Jun072013

The Purge

Great ideas come along once in a blue moon. With today’s state of cinema that is inundated with superhero movies, sequels and adaptations from other media, it’s like a breath of fresh air when a movie comes along that is completely original and free of a man in tights or a number at the end of its title. But coming up with an idea is only half the equation. The idea must be expanded upon. A movie can’t survive on an idea alone. Unfortunately, “The Purge” is of the great-idea-bad-execution variety. It sets up its intriguing premise with promises of social commentary on our culture of violence, but then does nothing with it and relegates itself to what amounts to nothing more than a bland home invasion thriller.

The year is 2022. Unemployment rests at a mere one percent and crime is practically non-existent. This drop in poverty and crime is due to one thing, an annual event called the Purge. For one night each year, all crime is legal, no matter how heinous. If you want to murder your neighbor or rape the pretty girl at the office or loot a home of its valuables, you’re free to do so with no fear of consequence. Most families who can afford to have barricaded themselves in their homes thanks to James (Ethan Hawke), a salesman who has gotten rich from selling security systems to his surrounding neighbors. He and his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), have one of the systems themselves and are planning on having a quiet evening at home. However, when their son, Charlie (Max Burkholder) opens their doors to a man being attacked, the masked attackers demand to have him back. They have a short amount of time to find the man in their home and force him back outside or they’ll use their tools to break through their security system and kill each and every one of them.

So despite a compelling premise that could spin hundreds of intriguing stories about people all around the country during the Purge, it narrows its scope to one tiny space, a handful of characters and a banal, run-of-the-mill story. Take the premise away and this is 2008’s “The Strangers,” only not half as scary or interesting. “The Purge” quickly abandons its unique identity and falls back on tried and true horror tropes, like when the power goes out and the characters get stuck in what I like to call a Horror Movie Blackout, where everything is tinted blue and a flashlight covers far more area than its actual spread. Other films can get away with this due to the moonlight covering outside areas or infiltrating homes through windows, but metal barricades block every door and window here. Aside from one small rectangular portion that allows them to see outside, the entire house should be cloaked in darkness.

Of course, this is a minor problem in a movie with such sluggish pacing. Even at a brisk 85 minutes, “The Purge” feels too long and relies almost entirely on slow walking through a darkened house to build its suspense. Some of these moments are effective due to a minimal use of music or ambient noise—besides, silence can sometimes be scarier than any gradually building score—but they are too frequent to truly work, especially given that the true bad guys are safely planted outside for the majority of the film. Cut out the slow walking and you have a movie that’s barely an hour.

With its focus on a single family on a single horrifying night, what “The Purge” needed more than anything else was established characters with real personalities and a family dynamic that rang true. You can really only find true fear within the viewer if they care about the characters they’re watching (which is something Ethan Hawke’s last genre endeavor, “Sinister,” nailed). Although an attempt is made early on before the night turns grim, it’s a lousy attempt, one that is too obvious and superficial to work. It’s quite clear from the get-go that this movie was built around its idea rather than its characters, all of whom seem like an afterthought.

While “The Purge” is by no means terrible, its failure to expand upon its ideas is frustrating. Aside from its brief look at our culture of violence, it also postulates the idea through onscreen television news stories that the event is a way to purge the world of the weak, the poor and those without value that have nothing to contribute to society, a Final Solution if you will. It teeters on the edge of the question, is this the way to truly redeem society? To lower unemployment? To fix the economy? Does isolated evil justify the widespread good that can come from it? But then it never answers those questions or expands on them enough to let us intellectualize them ourselves. The final twist that introduces new characters with admittedly ridiculous motivations nevertheless proposes the idea that such barbarism is simply a part of human nature, but that’s as close as it ever gets to anything intellectually stimulating. Not all movies need some deep meaning to succeed, but “The Purge” isn’t particularly thrilling or scary, so its idea is all it has left. By not expanding on it, it loses nearly all of its appeal.

The Purge receives 2/5