Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
The Purge: Anarchy

Title: The Purge: Anarchy

Anarchy In The USA? What a windfall for the travel industry: "Don't get caught stateside on Purge night: book your Vancouver getaway now!"

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half Johnny Rottens out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Come on, let's purge again/Like we did last summer.

Tagline: "Welcome to America, where one night a year all crime is legal."

Better Tagline: "In other words, an average day on Wall Street."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: A year has passed since Ethan Hawke went to the great home fortress in the sky while battling suburban psychopaths, and another Purge is upon us. For 12 hours, Americans are free to commit any crime they please, while all emergency and public assistance services are suspended (this would be a bad night to eat a bottle of Flintstone chewables, kids). Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) and daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) just want to spend the evening like most Americans: cowering in their homes. Meanwhile, squabbling couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are trying to reach her sister's house before the fun begins, and Leo (Frank Grillo) has plans for the man who wronged his family. Murder plans. Unsurprisingly, things go south in a hurry.

"Critical" Analysis: I kind of liked the premise of the original Purge, an annual free-for-all that would ostensibly allow the populace to "cleanse" themselves of baser urges and make for a more peaceful and productive rest of the year. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if Goldman Sachs made it the basis for their next corporate retreat.

The big problem with the original film was that it ended up ditching the concept for standard home invasion tropes. Any political commentary writer/director James DeMonaco was trying to make about gun violence or the One Percent got lost in all the ultraviolence, not to mention the question of why "purgers" would waste the night hunting one homeless dude when they had a whole city ripe for the picking.

Anarchy picks up a year later and gives us a more street-level view of the night's proceedings. Shane and Liz are driven/herded from their crippled car straight into downtown Los Angeles, where dopey circumstances have also thrown Leo together with Eva and Cali. Unlike the other four, Leo is out tonight on purpose, using the Purge to exact revenge on the man who -- according to cryptic pre-credits newspaper clippings -- either a) killed his son, b) molested his son or c) introduced his son to Minecraft.

Levels of sympathy vary for the protagonists. Shane and Liz rank near the bottom, since they waited until an hour before the fun begins to try to make it to safety. Next is Leo, who -- rather than drive to his quarry's house before the Purge started and kill the guy at his lesiure -- elects to wait and drive through the most dangerous area possible (downtown) to do his killing. Then again, if he'd done the smart thing, Eva and Cali would be dead and we wouldn't have a movie.

Because according to DeMonaco's thesis, mere Purging is no longer enough for the elites. By the time this one rolls around, the poor aren't dying in large enough numbers, so rich people are goosing the proceedings along by having members of the lower classes (Eva and Cali, in this case) abducted and brought to their stately manors for their killing pleasure.

[I note that critics, uh, criticized the concept for being far-fetched. I agree, but for different reasons. Our government is already doing a bang-up job incarcerating/starving the poor. Why mess with success?]

Anarchy also introduces a rogue element in the form of Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) as Carmelo, a "revolutionary" leader determined to take the Purge to the Man. As incendiary rhetoric goes, it's pretty laughable, considering the Purge has the full weight of the New Founding Fathers of America behind it (we don't really see the NFFA, but don't be surprised if Donald Trump and Adam Sandler are in there somewhere). Carmelo's naive sloganeering would be a mild surprise if Anarchy wasn't produced by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes. Given his involvement, this Running Man-level insurrection with a touch of The Warriors is about par for the course.

Now that I think about, this movie really could have used some Baseball Furies.

Still, the genius of the "Purge" gimmick lies in how many stories can be extracted from the overall morass of the concept. DeMonaco combines the predicaments of his three parties easily, and if The Purge: Anarchy makes enough money, he's free to build the franchise into something Paranormal Activity-like in proportions. And without having to pay anybody as recognizable (*cough*) as Ethan Hawke this time around, making a profit shouldn't be a problem.

The Purge: Anarchy is in theaters today. Your future dream is a shopping spree.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar