Ethan Hawke in The PurgeTHE PURGE

If you blended The Hunger Games, David Fincher's Panic Room, and Shirley Jackson's classic short story "The Lottery" with generous helpings of ice, you'd wind up with the scare-flick smoothie that is The Purge. An eventually underwhelming yet bluntly effective chiller by writer/director James DeMonaco, the movie, admittedly, does lose its way before its 90 minutes are up. But considering how few modern releases in its genre find their way at all, it's hard to deny the primal pleasures of DeMonaco's outing, even if the film remains more thought-provoking in concept than it proves to be on-screen.

As The Purge's opening title card tells us, it's 2022, and all seems right with America: Unemployment is at a mere 1 percent, and violent crime has been all but eradicated. We soon learn why. It seems that once per year, law-enforcement officials take a 12-hour sabbatical, and citizens are allowed to break any laws they choose without fear of reprisal or arrest; the night is a national, legalized purging of wicked impulses that appears to ensure 364 subsequent days of prosperity and calm. I'd like to think that I'd spend those 12 hours either illegally downloading or parking in tow-away zones with a smarmy grin on my face, but the Americans of The Purge have other ideas - namely the systematic murder of those deemed unsuitable for society (the unemployed, the homeless) and glib suburbanites such as Ethan Hawke's James Sandin, a home-security hotshot whose protection service, we're told, makes houses 99-percent impenetrable.

If you noticed that paragraph bookended with mentions of "1 percent" and "99 percent," you may wonder if we're in the midst of a metaphor here, and DeMonaco's storyline does indeed feature strong Occupy-movement undertones. Instead of an Us Versus Them analogy, though, The Purge - perversely and amusingly - turns out to be a tale of Them Versus Us; the film's chief sociopath (Rhys Wakefield) is a privileged, nattily attired preppie who threatens to kill the Sandins if they don't let him execute the terrified "homeless swine" (Edwin Hodge) who's taking shelter in their home. In DeMonaco's not-so-distant future, the 1 percent have effectively become the 99 percent, and the movie asks: Would this kind of cultural shift toward near-universal prosperity and serenity be worth it if we collectively lose our humanity in the process? (It certainly wouldn't be if our country subsequently became overrun with citizens such as the Sandins' neighbors - threateningly cheerful suburban zombies who seem inches away from homicidal meltdowns.)

It should go without saying that, in terms of basic narrative, The Purge is more intriguing than most fright flicks, and for about two-thirds of its length, it's also a leaner, more nerve-racking experience than most. DeMonaco opens with a sensational montage in which bloody Purge Night events are accompanied by the lilting strains of Debussy's "Clair de Lune," and in numerous instances, the writer/director uses the dichotomy between disturbing imagery and soothing sounds - or vice versa - for maximum creepiness. By the final half hour, the movie has succumbed to its genre's more traditional, less inspired conceits; there are a few too many generic shootings and slashings in dimly lit rooms, and far too many lapses in logic. (Why do the Sandins' frightened kids, well played by Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder, keep disappearing from sight at the exact moments they should be glued to their parents' sides?) But even at its weakest, Hawke and Lena Headey, as James' wife, deliver forceful, ravaged portrayals, the pacing remains tight, and DeMonaco stages painful encounters so that you really feel the blows; the scene in which an intruder gets shot on a pool table and then lands so that her head "thunk!"s on the tabletop made my audience emit a collective, empathetic "Ow-w-w-w!" While The Purge may not wholly satisfy, it's brimming with extraordinarily satisfying elements and leaves you with a legitimately evocative, even haunting final image: It may be morning in America, but it's an America that's become one horrifying, endless night.


Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The InternshipTHE INTERNSHIP

In director Shawn Levy's The Internship, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play middle-aged, recently unemployed salesmen seeking positions at Google alongside hundreds of hungry computer tyros, and if you did an "I'm feeling lucky" Google search on the phrase "pleasant, toothless buddy comedy," you might be led directly to the movie's IMDb page. With Vaughn's motor-mouthed brio less self-conscious than usual, and Wilson's laid-back charisma laced with notes of doubt and regret, the leads are both enjoyable and unexpectedly touching, and a bunch of gifted young comedians - among them Josh Brener, Dylan O'Brien, Tobit Raphael, and Tiya Sircar - offer welcome support. (The Book of Mormon's Josh Gad, meanwhile, is marvelous as a seemingly mute programming savant.) But the film's stock, nearly cartoonish situations continually dull your interest - the antagonists played by Aasif Mandvi and the clever Max Minghella emerge as depressingly one-dimensional d-bags - and the dialogue isn't fresh enough to make up for the movie's fundamental (if Google-hued) blandness and rote "Look at the generations working in harmony!" uplift. The Internship is a movie about the world's most powerful search engine, but an engine is precisely what it's lacking.

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