"Big Daddy, we have two for your personal purge, we're bringing 'em down now."
Last year's surprise hit The Purge was the latest in a long line of thrillers with a great premise and boneheaded execution. The fact that the film's opening weekend total equaled roughly one-half of its total domestic gross was but one indicator that people were intrigued by the concept but turned off by the execution. One of the biggest complaints was how narrow the focus of the film ended up being. For a world where all crime is legal one night a year, why hole up in the suburbs with a rich family who has their home invaded by madmen?
The inevitable sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, clearly set out to solve that one specific problem by opening up the world and showing how chaotic things would be on this night in an urban landscape. So could this film beat the odds and end up being a better execution of a decent premise, or would it once more drop the ball, failing to live up to its potential? Read on to find out...
On a March night in 2033, the annual United States "Purge" is about to commence. For 12 hours a year, all crime is legal, and though they make it a point to say "all crime, including murder," murder's still the only crime anyone's interested in committing. A single mother named Eva (Carmen Ejogo) is leaving her job as a waitress to go home to her teenage daughter Cali (Zoë Soul), who is wrapped up in watching online videos calling for people to rise up against the "New Founding Fathers" that started The Purge, as they see it as a means of getting rid of the poor and working classes. In another part of the city, a man known only as Sergeant (Frank Grillo) is arming himself to go out and purge one specific person. In still another part of the city, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are on their way to Shane's sister's house to wait out the night when their car breaks down (for reasons that are explained, but are no less stupid than if the car had just miraculously broken down) stranding them in the middle of the city just as The Purge commences.
A bunch of thugs break into Eva's house, abducting Eva and Cali and bringing them downstairs to a tractor trailer. The Sergeant sees this happening from his car and though he tries to convince himself to drive off, he gets out of his car and kills the men trying to abduct the women. Seeing that they have no way of defending themselves, he offers for them to come with him, and when they return to the car, they find that Shane and Liz have snuck into his car to hide. After another series of events, the Sergeant's car breaks down, leaving the five stranded on the streets, with the Sergeant about to abandon them to go carry out his mission for the evening. When Eva desperately offers him another car if he stays with them, he takes her offer and they must travel to get the new car.
I would love to tell you that the movie's almost over at this point, but that's only the first act and the very beginning of the second act. Not only is the film 103 of the most bloated minutes I've spent in a movie theater this summer, it's also 103 of the dumbest. This franchise sucks. There's simply no other way to put it. Closing the world up and focusing on one family didn't work. Opening the world up to focus on a bunch of people similarly didn't work. I'm sorry James DeMonaco, there's no way for you to make this premise work. Sometimes a writer has to just say to themselves, "The Twilight Zone is no longer on the air, and my idea sucks if it goes on for more than thirty minutes, so I'll just have to take satisfaction in knowing that I had a great idea that just doesn't work under present circumstances."
Even the anti-Libertarian, left wing zealotry of the first film is amped up here. I had hoped this would be a more frantic film that didn't stop to deal with the implications of the 1% gone wild and the notion of letting someone live because they may just save your life at the end of the film, but DeMonaco was very concerned with shoehorning backstory and history on The Purge into the narrative. There's never a moment when any of this feels organic. At least the exposition delivery system in the first film was mostly done by television and radio reports, so it felt a bit more natural. Here it feels like the flow of the narrative has to grind to a halt any time someone wants to moralize for a minute or ten.
There's more action and more murder and more flames and all of the things that are perfect distractions for the fact that there's simply no story here. There are story lines and story elements, but no story. Survive. That's it. That's the only story. Watch how this group of people attempts to survive. It's insulting to an audience to attempt to make a film that has no story, and hope that all the little Twitter-ready quips you want to throw in about inequality will be enough justification for your movie's existence. It's not enough to have talking points if there's no narrative to weave them in to, and that's indicative of what's really wrong with this film.
The performances are fine. The actors do what's expected of them which is run, whisper yell, and shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot, but there's no real "acting" happening here. There's also really no one in this movie. I know that the streets would not be overflowing with people on a night like this, but it sort of deflates your argument that the poor have nowhere to go where they can be safe, if every god damned street your movie takes place on never has more than three or four people on it (not counting our band of five "heroes"). I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the absolutely laughable cameo from a character from the first film. That absurd attempt to tie the two films together by more than just The Purge is also emblematic of the filmmakers' contempt for their audience.
There are really no circumstances under which I could recommend The Purge: Anarchy. It's a dumb movie made by and for dumb people. Any one of the films Roger Corman produced between 1969 and 1979 has just as much mindless violence, it's just that when his films took time out to moralize, it was satirical in nature. This film thinks it has something to say, and that's why it's so nonsensical. If there's going to be another one of these (and let's face it, there is), maybe don't set it all on one night. Maybe show how a group of sleazy businessmen have to plan the entire year to pull of a crime that they have 12 hours to get right so they don't go to jail. Something, ANYTHING, other than more non-stop, mindless violence would be better. I'd settle for ninety minutes of rich people sitting in their homes, safe from any danger at this point. At least it wouldn't be an insult to the audience's intelligence.
GO Rating: 1.5/5
[Images via BoxOfficeMojo]