Monday, July 28, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy Review

The Purge: Anarchy Review

Last summer, I reviewed a movie called “The Purge,” starring Lena Headey and Ethan Hawke. If you remember I didn't quite like the film that much. If you remember even further, I put the film on my list of ten worst films of 2013. I hated “The Purge” because it squandered an opportunity, and nothing gets my goat more than a movie that completely blows its premise. When your idea for a movie is an annual “holiday” when all crime is legal for twelve consecutive hours, why not have as much fun as possible with the premise? Better question, why would you make the film a simple home invasion horror movie? “The Purge” had all the ingredients for a crazy, B-movie but got lost in something silly and miscalculated.

Two weeks ago, the sequel “The Purge: Anarchy” was released, which is a sequel to the first film. Once again, James DeMonaco sat down in the director’s chair and once again wrote the script. After viewing the initial trailers for the sequel, I figured DeMonaco took those criticisms to heart. Instead of making another home invasion movie, DeMonaco sets his sequel in downtown Los Angeles. Instead of a rich family, he focuses on three separate groups who interlink together. We have Sergeant (Frank Grillo), a police officer out to kill a man who wronged him, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) a young, struggling couple whose car breaks down on the wrong night and Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Tanya (Justina  Machado), two sisters just trying to survive the night. The film also includes gangs of people with sniper rifles, armored cars, motorcycles, and flame throwers. I had a feeling that this was going to be the crazy movie I hoped for with the first one.

I will say this much for “The Purge: Anarchy,” it is a step up from the first film. But overall, I still don’t think the film works as a whole. I think “The Purge: Anarchy” is at its strongest when it focuses on the three groups of people, helping each other to survive the endless hordes of “Purgers” trying to kill or kidnap them. Had the film remained as a mindless, survival actionier, it might have worked better. The action scenes are much better this time out. The use of new ideas, new weapons, new vehicles and a new setting benefit the sequel. There is real planning and malice the Purgers use on Purge Night, and I liked seeing the different ways groups work to do their dirty business. Even though the film is more of an action movie rather than a horror movie, the glimpses of how dark human nature can be were truly horrifying in this sequel and I thought DeMonaco did a great job bringing those scenes to life.

The film also benefits from a great cast. DeMonaco had a great cast last time, but wrote characters for them that were one-dimensional and plastic. While I am not sure DeMonaco’s talents as a writer have improved, Grillo breathes life into the movie. If you saw the trailers for “The Purge: Anarchy” and if you are Marvel fan, then you were probably thinking that Frank Grillo would have made a perfect Frank Castle. It’s true, Grillo seems to be playing a version of Frank Castle in this movie and he does a really good job as a man who sets a personal mission for himself, but can’t bear to see good people die, even if it is the Purgers right to kill this one night a year. Ejogo and Machado are the moral compasses of the group, and they do a good job with their respected roles. Gilford and Sanchez have the throw-away job of being the dumb, young couple, who just duck, scream and open their eyes big, but they make the most of it and do okay with their roles. They both have a couple of big moments in the movie and when those moments happen they shine brighter than I thought they would and that was nice.

Here’s the thing, had the movie only focused on Grillo’s character, going after criminal scum on Purge Night, that would have made a cool movie. Heck, this group of people just surviving the night for an hour and a half would have made a cool movie. The thing that derails this sequel, just like it did the first film, is that DeMonaco can’t help but bring the film to the bigger picture. “The Purge: Anarchy” is just another “rich vs. poor” fable. Sadly, it was boring in the first film and it is boring again. DeMonaco wants his audience to think long and hard about the Haves vs. The Have Not’s in this country, but how he executes his ideas is unapologetically inert. With a premise which revolves around a night in which one can commit any crime for twelve hours, why make a movie that takes itself so seriously? I also had to laugh when the film makes a few anti-killing remarks in the film. So murdering people, even if it’s a government right, is wrong? Wow, thanks for the astounding insight Mr. DeMonaco. You just said what at least 100 million other action movies have said, and most of those movies said it better. This movie would have worked much better as a mindless action movie in the vein of a Michael Bay film, but it wants so bad to tell a compelling story that parallels our country today. The way DeMonaco writes however just doesn't gel well with the movie he’s making.

Also like the first film, everything in this movie is so painfully obvious that it takes me out of the movie every time. DeMonaco sets up big scenes he wants to end with an emotional crescendo, but they are written so obviously, so cliché-ridden that it’s hard not to predict the outcome. Plus, those outcomes are so mind-numbingly lame that I roll my eyes and giggle to myself each and every time. On a night where crime is legal, I find it very hard to believe that the most amoral of people would suddenly become big sweethearts and begin helping strangers through the night. I am going to speak in an extreme figure of speech here, but if The Purge where real, I don’t see strangers rallying together and treating each other nicely. The real Purge would be ugly, and DeMonaco has yet to dip into the nastiness a Purge would really produce.

With the word “anarchy” in the title, one would think that the film would be filled with balls-to-the-wall action. Well, that is not quite the case. While I said I did enjoy the spurts of action in the film, those action sequences are so far and in-between that I nearly wanted to cry. Plus, all of the action is over before it really begins, which doesn't seem Purge-esque at all. At the end of the first film, it was said that downtown Los Angeles was riddled with bodies, well I guess Los Angelinos took a break this year, because The Purge in this movie is the quite possibly the lamest imagined Purge I could think of. There are barely any bodies in the city, barely any action and barely any groups of people fighting. Plus, why does the film only focus on murder? Wouldn't people turn to arson, and set entire cities on fire? Wouldn't people break into stores and loot them dry? Wouldn't techno-geeks rip people off on computers all night long?

While the acting and brief action is all superb, it is all not enough to make an overall better movie. After two films based on the same premise, James DeMonaco further proves that he doesn't have a strong understanding of the possibilities of his premise. For a movie that is called “The Purge: Anarchy” and features very little anarchy is a film I have a hard time fully recommending to the masses. Although, I still think it is an overall better movie, I just feel DeMonaco has work on writing better characters and work on leaving out the heavy-handed political remarks. If he goes for a third film, I think he would benefit from somebody else taking over screenwriting duty, and I know for sure the audience would too.

FINAL GRADE: C

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