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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Drink lots of coffee before seeing ‘The Purge’

“Man of Steel” opened today and is likely to take over the No. 1 spot at the box office from “The Purge.” Which doesn't mean that the new Superman flick is all that much a better movie, but it does show just how quickly the Hollywood scene can change. Anyway, here is the review that I wrote of “The Purge” for Spokane Public Radio

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the world boasted a population in 1950 of 2.5 billion people. In 2011, that number had grown to 7 billion. By 2025, projections point to a billion more.

Earth, it’s clear, is becoming a crowded place. So, what does that mean? Social scientists have their answers. As do politicians, not to mention the so-called experts who yammer on during one television broadcast after the next.

But maybe the people with the most interesting observations about overpopulation and its consequences are those who write science fiction. From Kim Stanley Robinson’s tales of Mars colonization to films such as “Soylent Green” and the forthcoming “Elysium,” the prospects of a future Earth are seldom pictured as pretty.

That goes double for the film “The Purge,” the second feature from writer-director James DeMonaco. Set in the year 2022, America in this imagined view of life a decade from now is a place of relative peace and plenty. Unemployment is barely 1 percent, and crime is basically unheard of. How has this happened? Has Obamacare solved the nation’s health-care crisis? Has a post-Obama Tea Party president not only balanced the budget but succeeded in spreading a good measure of national wealth throughout the country’s social classes?

Maybe both. Maybe neither. DeMonaco never says. What he DOES say is what many people believe: They credit everything to The Purge, an annual occurrence whereby for a 12-hour period all crime is legal. The secret, so goes the theory, is that The Purge – which is another name for willful bloodletting, usually of the weaker sections of society – allows society at large to vent its inherent rage during this one night and, presumably, settle down to working in peace and harmony for the remaining 364 days and change.

So, as our film opens, our protagonist James Sandin – played by Ethan Hawke – is driving home, smug and self-satisfied because he is one of the lucky ones. A salesman of security systems, he is coming off his biggest month ever. And after he and his wife (played by “Game of Thrones” star Lena Heady) and their two children sit down to dinner, he drops the armored walls and prepares to sit the night out – watching events unfold on television as if this were just another reality show.

But, wait a minute. Seems teen daughter has attracted a young man intent on challenging dad’s authority, and pre-teen son has – in a moment of humanity rare to this version of the future – helped a stranger escape a murderous mob by opening up the home fortress. Pretty soon guns are blazing, the mob – frustrated at being denied their right to purge – is threatening to break in, and the Sandins’ version of suburban paradise – just that fast – has turned into a dystopian hell.

Sounds intriguing, right? Well, not so much. DeMonaco gives away an essential plot twist way too early. He plays fast and loose with race relations by making everyone – white, black and Asian – an equal-opportunity offender. And, ultimately, instead of anything remotely resembling that famous jaw-dropping “Soylent Green” moment – you know, the “It’s people!” line? – “The Purge” devolves into a simple procession of who will die next.

Overpopulation will lead to many bad things. Death by boredom, though, isn’t likely to be one of them.

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