When a stand-up comic flubs a line and derails the rhythm of a joke, it’s considered a hiccup and is instantly forgivable. When an actor is performing Macbeth and does the same, it shatters the entire act. The lesson here: “The Purge: Election Year” would be far better if it only had some sense of how silly it is.
It’s time again for the annual purge, which, in theory, channels all of our violent tendencies into one night, in order to make the rest of the year more safe. It’s a flimsy concept, sure; it assumes that a damaged human psyche has a year-long, cool-down period, yes; but, it’s a high enough concept to potentially hold up a good movie. However, little is done with it, other than some obnoxious camerawork of flamboyantly attired madmen and madwomen. Unlike most purges, this one occurs during an election year, blanketing the senseless violence with some political intrigue — and I use that term recklessly. Other than that, it’s much of the same: blood flies, rhetoric is spewed and party supply stores sell out.
This film attempts to juggle action, horror and political satire, and it quickly becomes apparent that the genres are not apples but chainsaws. It’s an action film because Nazis are the bad guys and there’s a heft of corny one-liners; it’s a horror film because it’s needlessly violent and brimming with archetypes; it’s political satire because it’s heavy-handed and preachy. Like a botched genetic experiment, the film represents the worst of its ambitions.
In brief spurts, the film seems to embrace its idiocy and flip it on its head. Take into account a scene where a woman cocks a sawed-off shotgun, struts down a street, blows away a man in a pig costume and caps it all off with a piece of straight-to-DVD dialogue. I smiled. Elsewhere, the film wears a straight face, such as when it shows the word, “purge,” written in blood across the Lincoln Memorial as if it’s provocative and not incredibly ridiculous. It holds as much water as when a teenager first listens to Buffalo Springfield and then goes around writing “war” on stop signs.
Then, there are two incredibly bizarre bits of overacting during which I didn’t know whether to cringe or laugh. One involved a schoolgirl who couldn’t afford a candy bar one day, and the next is wielding a diamond studded AK-47. The other revolves around some sort of religious ceremony, at which time a presidential hopeful appears to orgasm violently in front of chanting drones. Both circumstances border on B-movie hilarity, but fall short into A-movie embarrassment. Imagine my surprise when I spot Michael Bay in the credits as a Producer.
As the film went slowly by, I began to wonder what other kinds of crimes were being committed on purge night. Is some pervert frolicking about in a trench coat, indecently exposing himself to unsuspecting purgers? Is somebody going around ripping the tags off mattresses? Has admission to “The Purge: Election Year” been set at anything above an old penny covered in gum?
2 out of 5 stars