Directed by: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Michael K. Williams, and John Beasley
The Plot: Exactly one year after the Purge we have The Purge II. Three different groups of people from three very different backgrounds find themselves stranded in the middle of the annual Purge. A mysterious, duly-weaponized, stranger (Frank Grillo) guides the group through the streets of Los Angeles. All street signs read: OUT OF ORDER. Can our group of politically-centered heroes survive in a world gone mad?
The Film: I'm not too ashamed to admit it: I really liked last summer's The Purge. This new movie sucks balls - for reasons we'll get into later in this review - but the original movie? I got into it.
First and foremost The Purge celebrates our greatest American stereotype. That we Americans - if allowed - would let as much lead fly into as many soft targets that step in front of us as we could, because we absolutely can't wait to use our guns to kill something. We build private armories that gather dust, and as a consequence find ourselves a nation of itchy trigger fingers fresh out of Benadryl.
But all that changes during the night of the Purge.
On that night lead flies, machetes rise and fall, and America tips the cup of violence ever upward, chugging sloppily till the entire country is suffering the worst hangover in its 200+ year history. A hangover that lasts 364 days and sates our collective bloodlust till the party starts once again, promptly at 7PM on March 21st, and runs on through to the morning.
This year's edition features three different stories. One about a father seeking state-sanctioned revenge against the drunk who ran over his kid. One about a mother and daughter hauled out of their apartment fortress by armed militia. And one about a young couple whose car gets tampered with - pre-Purge - and now discover themselves stuck out in the open with the city descending into legalized murder and mayhem all around them.
Though Ethan Hawke's version of Purge-atory may have kept us behind closed doors throughout most of the evening, (which is one of the reasons I'm thinking it may have worked as well as it did) Anarchy proposes to remove all boundaries and fully explore the city-scale savagery of the holiday. So what's that like? Picture a GWAR concert, with nearly the same dedication to costuming and violence, but far less inventive and engaging.
When you have an idea as (keeping with the Purge theme...) bulimic as this one, and then match it with a production budget of equal proportion, (LA... you never looked so EMPTY) as well as a script deftly incapable of taking any chances - expect disappointment. In fact, count on it.
We have an interesting set-up with two-thirds of our character roster fleeing from the Purge, while Frank Grillo's character, Sergeant, seeks to sew and reap destruction on his night to do so - but who is this guy really? He's armed to the teeth, driving a new, armored, Dodge Charger - which, in keeping with the theme of the movie it's in, is a vehicle that promises interesting potential, but delivers almost nothing in return. The opposing arguments in our merry band should encourage mistrust within the group - or at least bring some interesting conflict to the narrative, in the same way that the presence of Edwin Hodge's stranger brought an air of discomfort to the first film. Grillo's Sergeant is the most interesting specimen in this sequel - part Mad Max, part Paul Kersey in Death Wish - but he's never given much of an opportunity to run with the character. Instead he's relegated to group babysitter and Purge-pariah.
The original Purge was marginalized as a "home invasion thriller," (which it confidently was) but it also, quite cleverly, struggled with the notion of a human conscience maintaining its integrity on a night without one. An idea which could have been explored even further in The Purge: Anarchy, but DeMonaco's new movie shrugs off the concept, and instead focuses on demonizing rich, white folks.
Which... whatever... I'm white. I'm fine with it. From Caddyshack to Inglourious Basterds, we make great villains. Especially when we have money. In The Purge: Anarchy my milk-toned brothers and sisters are opulent jerk-offs - bourgeois boobs too lazy and out of shape to slip into their hunting dress to hit the streets for easy thrill kills, so they pay thugs to wrangle and drag murder surrogates, kicking and screaming, to their private slaughter auctions.
Apparently, when all nine planes of hell are cooking, and the order of rule and law are abandoned for 12 consecutive hours, the free market is still alive and thriving during the Purge. All hail the New Founding Fathers indeed...
In a mad bit of Purge-ry we've seen this sort of thing in cinema before. Eli Roth's Hostel made it much more taxing and weighty. Mark Neveldine's underrated Gamer (Gamer I love thee) made it a hell of a whole lot funner. As our cast of Purge-bunnies move through the streets and alleyways of Los Angeles, running into various factions of organized anarchists, it's tough not to recall Walter Hill's cult 1979 classic - The Warriors.
If you're a fan of any of the three films I just mentioned - don't get your hopes up. James DeMonaco shoplifts some of the aesthetics and homicidal principals of these cult features, but ultimately decides that turning The Purge: Anarchy into a race-war fantasy is the best direction his franchise could move into. Which, lets face it, could be a bold move if it didn't feel so National Lampoon.
We discover that Almighty Whitey has been using the annual Purge to target specific neighborhoods for controlled genocide and that a counter group, lead by Michael K. Williams, (think of Al Sharpton, but with a working vocabulary) seek to put an end to Purge inequality once and for all. Though the film never discloses the reasons why the wealthy are purging specific neighborhoods, I can only assume that in a dastardly play at real estate market manipulation, Whitey's going to return post-Purge to buy up all the bullet-riddled property on the cheap. Which doesn't so much as tickle my ire as it does make me realize that...
THIS IS THE PURGE.
Supposedly, you can do whatever you want on this one night. Why not use your twelve hours of lawlessness to carve out a sweet real estate scam for yourself tomorrow? Let the poor folks plunk on their spooky masks and gas up their chainsaws - you have a license to murder and steal tonight. Use your EQUAL share of Purge time to swipe a better car, or raid your corporate competitor's office complex and douche the place in napalm. Hell, do some inside trading with your rich buddies all night.
Purge bitch. Capitalize. Be a real American.
The Verdict: Don't waste your time on this pedestrian sequel. The Purge: Anarchy is fakakta and pointless. If it were 1986, and Ronald Reagan were in office, and the film carried enough splashy violence and gore to overshadow how shallow this idea is, maybe, just maybe, we'd have a sh*t-budget film with some historical cult value. But it's 2014, Barack Obama's in office, and everyone with a SAG card is trying to use political posturing to turn sh*t-budget movies into Shinola. Don't buy it. Bury it.
There... I've purged. I'll admit it right here, right now. I do feel a bit better.