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‘Purge’ releases the beast on the streets of LA

  • UNIVERSAL
    On the night of the annual purge, a night when thugs have a free pass for mayhem, no one is safe from harm.
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The clever conceit behind James DeMonaco’s 2013 sleeper hit "The Purge" was not that American society had resolved its crime, inequality and population problems with an annual free-pass-for-murder "purge." It was that this hell night came home to roost on isolated, gated suburbanites, ostensibly liberal people above this annual bloodletting, immune to its impact, but benefiting and even profiting from the mayhem — until it invades their community and their homes.

‘THE PURGE: ANARCHY’
Rated: R
* 1/2
Opens Friday

"The Purge: Anarchy" abandons that sly and disturbing message for a straightforward quest: people trapped outside when the annual "release the beast" commences, people who fall in with a bloody-minded man, bent on vengeance. It’s preachier, more diverse in its casting. All of which make it more specific, and limit it. Add generally lackluster performances and illogical plot twists and "Anarchy" is lame.

It goes wrong right from the start, with the title. Years into this annual purge, it’s become widely accepted. Anarchic? No. There are organized gangs, ‘roid-raging skinheads and trucks full of thugs. "Stay safe," everybody says, but most don’t mean it.

Black revolutionary Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) preaches against the purge, calling it a racist tool used to cull the minority population.

But all waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) wants to do is keep her daughter (Zoe Soul) safe for the night and her aged dad (John Beasley) out of trouble. Then trouble blows down their door.

Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford) are a bickering couple who only want to finish their shopping and drive home. But their car is sabotaged, and when darkness hits, black kids in whiteface with machetes and machine guns are after them.

A scowling stranger (Frank Grillo) has armed himself, armored his Dodge, and set out for revenge this night. But these people in jeopardy fall into his path and interfere with his plans.

"Purge 2" is overtly about race and class as our mixed group of five tries to make its way to the safety of dawn (when The Purge ends) without getting slaughtered by a mysterious "army" or murderous oligarchs or black revolutionaries. It’s close to a sermon. And it’s very close to being an utter bore.

DeMonaco, who has written thrillers such as "The Negotiator," plainly was given this sequel order as a rush job, and the lack of polish shows. Characters act against their self-interest as well as their morals. They stop to bicker in deadly situations and clumsily act as if they’ve read the dull, tin-eared script and know they aren’t in danger in this sequence, so they can chatter and traipse through this alley or down that subway tunnel without a care in the world.

To a one, they’re blase, only summoning up rage or terror once or twice in the third act. We don’t care for any one of them, and Grillo plays his hard-hearted killer with scarce wit or heart.

That reduces the film to a first-person shooter video game with a dose of politics added. Maybe that’s the only way to experience "Anarchy," with the viewer doing the shooting. Let’s hope DeMonaco has a piece of the spinoff game action, because "The Purge" has pretty much run its course as a violent big-screen social satire.

Review by Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers

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