As much as the last “Purge” movie (“Election Year”) sucked, we all know how it ends. The annual event, in which all crime, including murder, is legal, has come to an end, and it should have ceased in becoming a “Saw” series. But at this moment, we’re given a prequel, “The First Purge,” which focuses on its origins. Well, at least, the beginning of an experiment.
The experiment, set up by analyst Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei), pays people $5,000 to purge, and takes place on Staten Island. The ones who agree to purge for money are given tracking devices on their arms, but really sticks out at you are their contact lenses, which glow in the dark in colors of red, blue, green, and purple. That, I thought, was pretty cool.
And what the analyst finds out is that the Chief of Staff (Patch Darragh from “Sully”) has hired mercenaries to murder groups of people, in order to make this experiment a nationwide annual event. This was the most interesting part, involving Tomei’s character, but the rest of her is just plain dull.
The cast consists of African American characters, including a well-meaning drug lord named Dmitri (Y’Lan Noel), his protestor ex-girlfriend Mya (Lex Scott Davis, recently in “Superfly”), her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade from the BBC series “EastEnders”), and a psycho named Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). These actors here are fine in the ways they have ambitions, and aside from the psycho, you end up rooting for them to survive the night.
Dmitri wants his crew to protect his drugs and money, and he even offers Mya and Isaiah sanctuary, but she declines. Mya leads people to safety at the local church, until she leaves to find her brother, who is purging in order to get her out of the shabby apartment they live at, and to kill Skeletor. They all end up in this war zone.
But the second half of the movie has proven to be a cash grab. You get a parade of bullets and stabbings. You start with Purge parties, car crashes, gun fights, active shooters, and silly-looking explosions. I’ve heard reactions from people at the 9pm show with cheers and shocks, and I was a little shocked, too at times, but it ends up losing my interests.
And you also have supporting characters, who are barely studied, including a Hispanic mother (Luna Lauren Velez), her daughter (Kristen Solis), a neighbor of Mya’s (Mugga from TV’s “Orange is the New Black”), and a rival drug lord (Christian Robinson), who has sent hookers to kill Dmitri. Too many supporting characters, not enough details.
This prequel may be an improvement on the last one, but what does its distributor Universal Pictures care how much money the movie will make? We know how the Purge ends.