Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: "The Purge: Election Year"

Despite the title, “The Purge” isn’t an overtly political take in its third outing into a nasty dystopian future where people are allowed to murder and rape each other one night a year to vent their collective spleen.

There is indeed a presidential election going on, with the leading candidate a member of the New Founding Fathers of America, who wants to preserve the Purge as a quasi-religious way for citizens to rid themselves of their sin and wanton urges -- sort of preemptive confession and absolution, but with violence instead of penitence.

Christ spilled his blood for our sins; now let us spill others’ for the ones we haven’t committed yet.

The good candidate who wants to do away with the purge is Charlie Roan, an idealistic young Senator played by Elizabeth Mitchell. Eighteen years ago she was a victim of the Purge, losing her entire family, and now wants to do away with the day of infamy once and for all. She points out that most of those killed are poor and minority, claiming the NFFA is doing it simply to ease the burden on welfare rolls.

There’s definitely a one-percenters-versus-the-rest-of-us vibe to the Founding Fathers, who are uniformly white, old and patriarchal as all get out. If you can’t figure out who’s supposed to be who in this configuration, then a red and blue electoral map towards the end spells it out for us.

Still, this film is about bloody mayhem first, with any sort of coherent political message a distant second… or seventh.

The first “Purge” movie fell more in the horror/psychological thriller camp, as a single family was stalked inside their fortress home. The second and now the third ones are purely cathartic action flicks, with Frank Grillo as Leo, a tough but virtuous cop who gets caught up in the killing frenzy.

I liked the first two movies well enough, different as they were, but “Election Year” grows tedious at times. Like the last one it features a thrown-together group of folks just trying to survive the onslaught, who end up banding together to take down the nefarious leaders of the Purge -- giving them a goodly taste of their own medicine in the process, of course.

Mykelti Williamson plays Joe, owner of a tidy little deli/convenience store who’s determined not to see it go up in flames. He acts as both comic relief and the blue-collar voice of reason, and gets most of the best lines in the movie -- courtesy of writer and director James DeMonaco, the man behind all three movies.

Joe’s employee, a persevering Mexican-American immigrant named Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), turns out to have some useful skills picked up during the drug wars down in Juarez. He’s also got a friend (Betty Gabriel) who runs a volunteer ambulance on Purge night, but used to be known as a champion nicknamed Little Death on the wrong side.

Edwin Hodge plays Dante Bishop, leader of upstart rebellions who oppose the Purge, but adopt its tactics. And Terry Serpico, who looks like Anthony Michael Hall’s malevolent twin, is chilling as the leader of some white power mercenaries.

“The Purge: Election Year” replicates the experience of the previous movies well enough (especially the last one) without really adding any new layers or expanding this world. There’s some disturbing images cooked up for their own benefit -- purgers dressed up as bloody Abraham Lincoln and Lady Liberty, for instance -- but there’s nowhere left for this series to go.

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