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Review: Saving lives via killing is conundrum of sequel

  • Universal Pictures

    Frank Grillo, second from right, and Elizabeth Mitchell, right, star in “The Purge: Election Year,” which reveals the next terrifying chapter that occurs over 12 hours of annual lawlessness sanctioned by the New Founding Father of America to keep the country great.

“The Purge: Election Year”

Rated R

*** 1/2

Opens today

“The Purge,” 2013’s low-budget home-invasion horror hit, found its breakout star in the Purge itself: an annual 12-hour bloodbath of government-sanctioned mayhem. In this dystopian near-future, the New Founding Fathers of America have instituted the contained lawlessness to keep crime, and the population, in check. The 2014 sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy,” liberated audiences from the confines of a single home and let them loose into the streets of murderous chaos.

That film’s breakout star, the brooding Frank Grillo, an American version of a taciturn Jason Statham tough-guy type, is a Purge angel of sorts. His character, Leo, is back in “The Purge: Election Year,” which is the biggest, baddest, most berserk Purge so far. Writer-director James DeMonaco has written and directed all three films, maintaining a consistency of tone and style, including bits of humor and cartoonish weirdness among the grim, dark and terrifying possibilities.

The film’s distributors have utilized pitch-perfect marketing for our own current rocky election year (a sticker reading “I Purged”; the tag line “Keep America Great”), and the film itself reflects the historic nomination of Hillary Clinton with a blond upstart presidential candidate, Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), fighting against the NFFA establishment. She’s running on an anti-Purge platform, arguing that it unjustly wipes out the lower-class population, who are unable to afford the secure fortresses of the rich, while the NRA and insurance companies reap the profits. It seems so terrifyingly possible because the economic motivations and logical leaps that lead to ritual slaughter seem rather straightforward.

Leo now serves as Charlie’s protective Secret Service agent and is a Purge angel once again when they find themselves outside on Purge Night, pursued by neo-Nazi special forces. There are several breakout stars alongside Leo in “Election Year”: veteran actor Mykelti Williamson as Joe, a warm deli owner, and Betty Gabriel as a no-nonsense reformed purger with the nickname “Pequena Muerte” (Little Death).

The wacko Halloween-on-steroids style of the trilogy is amplified in “Election Year.” Some of the set pieces seem simply provocative, rushing by in morbid vignettes. But there’s much to be enjoyed in the over-the-top imagery, especially a horde of teenage girls in blood-soaked prom dresses wielding rhinestone-encrusted weapons and driving a Christmas-light bedecked car, blasting the song “Party in the USA.”

These films are overtly political, “Election Year” even more so. The message here about racial and economic inequality is relevant and accessible, but not necessarily revelatory. But the heart of “The Purge” trilogy is ultimately deeply human. Our heroes fight to save individual lives among the mass death. They face a classic activist conundrum: Is it worth your values to take up the tools of the master? One can’t be against the Purge and also purge, even if you’re purging oppressors. The question of the film is not a political one but a moral, ethical, humane one. “The Purge: Election Year” provides all that on its wild ride of blood-soaked anarchy.

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