“The Purge” turned out to be quite the sleeper hit last year. The otherwise basic home invasion horror movie was masked by its cool setting: a future where once a year for twelve hours, all crime is legal. This typically translates to rich people taking to the streets to murder the poor and homeless. A splatter-fest was promised and a splatter-fest was delivered. I saw the film opening day and I have rarely seen my favorite theater so crowded. It was seriously on par with “The Avengers.” I daresay audiences were just as bloodthirsty as some of the characters. But the film barely scratched the surface of its inventive premise, which is why we’re getting “The Purge: Anarchy.”
The first film pretty much restricted itself to a supposedly safe family home, but the sequel takes place on the mean streets of Los Angeles. We follow characters who are dumb or unlucky enough to be outside when the rest of the city is Purging. They can’t hide because apparently every nook and cranny in Los Angeles is either locked up or under surveillance by Purgers. Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) are forced out of their apartment by a team of assassins. Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are a young couple whose car breaks down. And an unnamed Sergeant (Frank Grillo) is seeking vengeance against a drunk driver who killed his son. The Sergeant is a survival expert who reluctantly takes the others under his wing and tries to corral them to safety. They, in turn, take turns being annoying and endangering the team, not that I blame them in the nightmarish landscape.
The team scurries from one deadly situation to another. Enemies tend to not last very long, though government assassins and a roving motorcycle gang keep popping up. The bad guys would have more success if they just killed the main characters on sight, but they keep blowing the element of surprise. Sometimes they give away their location by using firepower on peripheral characters, but more often they do that thing where they hold weapons on our heroes and monologue about what they’re going to do to them (usually involving talk about how good the Purge is for society). We wait patiently for these blowhards to get taken out by off-screen characters who don’t feel like taking their sweet time. There’s so little to make you jump that the film doesn’t even qualify as a horror movie like the first one. It’s more of an action thriller, though I suppose the environment in general is pretty horrifying.
This is a violent movie, but the violence is less interesting than one would think. Perhaps that’s due to its overuse, perhaps it’s due to it mostly happening to characters with no dialogue. A lot of it is shooting, which makes sense, but I was hoping for more creativity. This isn’t to say that we don’t see any machetes or flamethrowers, just not as many as I would have liked. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d type.
Like its predecessor, “The Purge: Anarchy” isn’t a strong movie. Most of the characters are either bland or annoying, storylines are raised and dropped carelessly and the action, despite its quantity, is mediocre. There are a few positives, like Frank Grillo’s breakout performance as an action hero, and the comedy that comes from watching rich snobs turn into violent whackjobs. But really, the only reason to see this movie is to watch it with friends and heckle it. There’s still promise in this premise, and I’m sure we’ll get a third movie (I imagine we’ll see annual installments for years to come), but the franchise has yet to fulfill its potential.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
“The Purge: Anarchy” is rated R for strong disturbing violence and for language. Its running time is 103 minutes.
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