"The Purge" is a "high-concept" movie - meaning that most of its appeal hangs on one central idea.
For such films, this key idea must be strong: Giant shark at the beach! Dinosaur clones gone mad! Lincoln frees slaves! And it must be pulled off with flair and panache: Spielberg! Spielberg! Spielberg!
Sadly, in "The Purge," this concept is A) pretty stupid and B) executed with mind-boggling incompetence.
And I do mean "executed."
Despite a decent cast, the film is ruined by laughable dialog, wooden moralizing and a silly, predictable plot.
It's 2022, and America is prosperous and peaceful, with unemployment at 1 percent - all because of the annual "purge," a government-sanctioned night in which all law and emergency services are suspended, resulting in pandemic beatings, murders and assorted mayhem, along with (of course) a flourishing and contented society on the other 364 days.
I suppose some folks believe that if you let your evil impulses run wild for a time, they'll be easier to control later on, but I'm not among them.
And it certainly isn't clear how such an event would produce economic stability; the film does suggest that the purge's real purpose is wiping out lower classes who can't afford to be safe on the titular occasion, but this idea is never developed.
In any case, the mercifully short movie keys on a wealthy family in a gated suburb that is generally unthreatened on purge night due to location and security.
But when their home is compromised, the family must confront its own sadistic beliefs.
That sounds thematically promising; but few things are more frustrating than a message movie that doesn't have the intellect to pull it off - one that wields its moral like a blunt instrument, brainlessly beating its viewers and characters.
There is one nice surprise early on; but most of the plot telegraphs its moves well ahead of time, as though it were written for a bunch of 10-year-olds.
Honestly, the device where a major character is about to be shot, stabbed or axed and suddenly gets rescued by an "unexpected" savior occurs at least three times, and the suspense in every case is nonexistent.
Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey labor heroically to pump life into this dead material, but for heaven's sake, what are such talented actors doing in crap like this?
The single worthy item here is a strong performance from young Rhys Wakefield as the chief baddie; but even the promising Wakefield is saddled with moronic dialog:
"The piece of filth that you are protecting exists only to serve our needs."
(See what I mean about blunt instruments?)
Later, from another villain: "It's time for you to quiet down and let us do our duty as Americans."
And in the closing credits, the government issues a statement "thanking all those who were killed last night for their sacrifice."
They should be thanking those who nearly died sitting through this witless mess.