Combustible Celluloid
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With: Y'lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Marisa Tomei, Luna Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis, Rotimi Paul, Melonie Diaz
Written by: James DeMonaco
Directed by: Gerard McMurray
MPAA Rating: R for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use
Running Time: 97
Date: 07/04/2018

The First Purge (2018)

1 Star (out of 4)

Funeral 'Purge'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The fourth movie in this popular series is perhaps the worst, with amateurish filmmaking and batches of stale movie chestnuts combining to betray its attempts at serious social commentary and satire.

In The First Purge, a brand-new political party ascends to power, the New Founding Fathers of America, promising new prosperity. One of their big ideas, spawned by sociologist Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei), is a 12-hour period wherein all crime will be legal. Therefore citizens will get out their aggressions and be fine the rest of the year. This "purge" is tested on Staten Island, where the population is generally below middle-class.

Drug lord Dmitri (Y'lan Noel) doesn't trust the purge, while his ex-girlfriend Nya (Lex Scott Davis) protests in the streets. Her younger brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), who has begun dealing drugs, secretly wants to purge; he was attacked and cut by the psychotic Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) and wants revenge. When the purge begins, very little goes as expected, but the night quickly turns deadly.

Like the other movies in the series — The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), and The Purge Election Year (2016) — this one tries and fails to place its idea within a larger national context. The First Purge begins with awkward, thinly-written political speeches and news coverage of the event, all of which serve to cheapen it. (It's especially painful to watch Oscar-winner Tomei struggle through her awful dialogue.)

The main characters are likable enough, if one can forget for a moment that the Dmitri character is a powerful drug lord, willing to kill anyone who gets in his way. (The movie shows no awareness of this situation.) The most notable moments are the commentary on unpunished white-on-black violence and uninvited sex as well as frightening references to the KKK, but these things are simple asides, floating above an ocean of mediocrity and exploitative violence.

They have no more relevance to the story at hand than does the "psychology" of the purge itself, especially compared to far more sophisticated and effective recent films (Get Out being the most notable example). We can only hope that The First Purge will also be the last.

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