Movie Review — “The Purge: Election Year”

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Whatever subtlety there was remaining in the satirical intentions of “The Purge” franchise pretty much fly out the door and into the blood-soaked  chaos of “The Purge: Election Night.”

Any doubts even the slowest paying patrons had about who and what these movies are about vanish like the final traces of logic in the script.

Characters caught up in this bloody annual American culling of the last and least among us, the poor, the pacifists and gun-avoiders, call the NRA — the National Rifle Association — by name.

Posters scream out “End Class Warfare.” And they’re not the product of rich folks baiting liberals out of fear that a REAL class war won’t do the One Percent any favors.

The Purge, a night of wanton crime and slaughter permitted under the New Constitution written by the New Founding Fathers, dis-proportionally “kills people of color.” And the people of color have noticed that. Not that in this less politically correct future anybody still uses that phrase.

And when a female candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) arises threatening to end the religiously-backed/NRA and Big Insurance sanctioned twelve-hour Hell Night, naturally she’s the target of a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, mercenaries whose White Power/Confederate flag/Swastika patches seem redundant.

But if you wanted a subtle reminder of who is on the wrong political side of bigotry, violence, religious backwardness and the like, “Zootopia” is where you should be spending your money.

Senator Charlie Roan (Mitchell) is betrayed and hunted on Purge night. Her one loyal Secret Service agent, Leo (Frank Grillo) hustles her off when her fortress townhouse is overrun.

“What now?” “RUN!”

It’s up to intrepid folks of color to Save America. Mykelti Williamson is the comical deli owner Joe, out to save his D.C. store from a night of violence. Betty Gabriel and Joseph Julian Soria help him. If only the Purge protester Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge) can be summoned..

Williamson delivers lines like “My Negro” and assorted “Never walk up on a black man on Purge night” variations. Funny.

For the most part, though, the characters have become disposable and the performances have no chance to develop empathy. That wasn’t the case with the first “Purge.” Lessons were learned in that film. Not here.

Now, these movies are about the mayhem. A “Sophie’s Choice” prologue is spattered in blood, and the violence — which includes the young assaulting their elders, wives butchering wayward husbands (and vice versa) and “murder tourists” from South Africa, Europe and Asia — is always over the top.

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People are washing themselves in blood — literally — especially the teens Joe caught shoplifting in his store, who show up Purge night in cars covered in Christmas lights, Miley Cyrus and “Party in the U.S.A.” blaring from the stereo and their bridal bustiers and tutus stained crimson.

Giving up on subtlety means writer-director James DeMonaco is all about the horror now. But his gift for killing off the supporting cast is limited. He’s not inventive in that way. When he has a character shriek “We’re not hypocrites!” he isn’t talking about himself. He wants to mock our violence, our inequality, our racial profiling. And wallow in it at the same time. One black villain would have given this more edge. Or some edge.

The dialogue is gimpy and the plot a thin thread stringing characters through the Mean Streets in search of safety, when there is none.

Is this it for “The Purge”? Perhaps. But given these movies’ origins, as a shout out against a culture at war with its poor and unable to rein in the Merchants of Death, that depends on Election Day.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language

Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson
Credits: Written and directed by James DeMonaco . A Universal release.

Running time: 1:49

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