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story.lead_photo.caption Isaiah (Joivan Wade) and Nya (Lex Scott Davis) try to survive 12 hours of Staten Island lawlessness in Gerard McMurray’s The First Purge.

Producer Jason Blum makes lean, low-budget films. Sometimes this allows him to take risks that have paid off with daring little films -- such as Whiplash, Split and Get Out -- that aren't easy to sell with a tagline but get by on good stories and unforgettable performances.

Unfortunately, he supports those ventures by making awful little movies like The First Purge, which are virtually guaranteed to make many times their paltry budgets. Quality is optional.

The First Purge

69 Cast: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Marisa Tomei, Luna Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis, Rotimi Paul, Mo McRae, Jermel Howard, Siya, Christian Robinson

Director: Gerard McMurray

Rating: R, for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use

Run time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Purge screenwriter James DeMonaco has managed to get four movies in this series produced even though he ran out of ideas a lot time ago. Actually, that's not true.

He and rookie feature director Gerard McMurray, who served as a producer on Fruitvale Station, create several moments of unintended hilarity. My auditorium roared with derisive giggles throughout.

The participants in the first all-night killathon depicted in this series often wear glowing contact lenses that make their eyes glow and bug out like a Warner Bros. cartoon character. DeMonaco loads the film with "ripped from the headlines" parallels that lead to more groaning than thrills.

People of any political persuasion can unite in longing for Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax to improve this thing. When a gangsta grabs a woman's crotch, her angry put-down is as predictable as all the jump scares that aren't terribly scary.

The giggles start early when an addict nicknamed Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) eagerly signs up to spend an evening killing fellow residents of Staten Island -- presumably because he has pent-up rage -- although he acts as though he's subbed out Red Bull for his Ritalin. Paul says every line and makes every gesture as if vein-popping agitation were Skeletor's only trait.

When Paul laughs maniacally, it's easy to do the same at his expense.

Skeletor is part of a new experiment that makes the other events in the Purge series possible. After a string of political crises sweeps a new political party called "The New Founding Fathers of America" into power, psychologist Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei) wonders if turning the borough into a no-man's land might help relieve some of the crime, especially in heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

With her reasoning, residents could get their aggression out if all law and order disappeared for 12 hours. Actually, the new government simply wants all of the criminals in the area to kill each other and anyone else who's stuck in the area.

Activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis) begs her fellow Islanders not to take part in the "experiment," but $5,000 is hard to resist. Her little brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade) figures putting on the contact lenses beats dealing dope and living in an apartment complex where the pipes are leaking and the elevator doesn't work.

Nya's former boyfriend Dmitri (Y'lan Noel) is the local narcotics kingpin and decides to stay on the Island instead of looking weak. He and the others then proceed to demonstrate that having degrees, criminal records or positions of authority are meaningless in DeMonaco's post-apocalyptic world because everybody here makes dumb decisions.

Tomei won an Oscar a quarter-century ago for My Cousin Vinny, where she mastered automotive jargon like a seasoned engineer. You can tell she knows this gig is yet another quick paycheck until the next Spider-Man movie comes along. Anyway she's not a good enough actor to say, "Science doesn't follow the rules of politics" while presenting gravitas. Who is?

The other characters are equally foolish. Nya dashes out to save Isaiah armed with pepper spray when most of the gangs have machine guns.

Who needs a purge when natural selection would weed these folks out without government tyranny?

MovieStyle on 07/06/2018

Print Headline: The First Purge

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