MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Purge: Anarchy” boils with violence, teems with possibility, but falls short


During the annual 12-hour nightmare known as The Purge, virtually every crime known to man is legal.

You can literally get away with murder.

Yet, one of the first images of the mayhem is of a proud African-American man who, to provide for his family, sells the rights to his death to some rich white folks who can’t wait to make him bleed.

White people. They’d rather pay six figures to butcher someone in comfort — they even send a limo to pick him up — than step outside their living rooms and claim as many victims as they want for free.

Later in “The Purge: Anarchy,” some of those unfortunate enough to have been caught outside in the madness — again, many of them are of varying ethnicities — are rounded up and brought to a lily-white, black-tie gala to be hunted for sport.

The movie’s racial overtones throttle you with such intensity that the scene in which black radical Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) gets a measure of revenge against the ruling elite might as well have been soundtracked by that classic “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which Garrett Morris sang, “I’m gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whiteys I see.”

At least that would have been more entertaining.

In the spring of 2023, Shane (Zach Gilford, “Friday Night Lights”) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez, “The Glades”) are on their way to visit family for The Purge. This, apparently, is a thing some people do, but they’re going about it fairly lackadaisically. Then, their car breaks down, stranding them in downtown Los Angeles just before the killing commences.

Waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her teenage daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), are kidnapped from their apartment by a commando squad.

Mysterious, heavily armed vigilante Leo (Frank Grillo, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) cruises the streets in an armor-plated murder-mobile.

Once their paths intersect, they spend much of the rest of “The Purge: Anarchy” being hunted through downtown streets and alleys.

It’s a terrible landscape filled with snipers, goons armed with flamethrowers and a nut job carrying a megaphone and an MP9 who screams about “doing God’s work.” A city bus speeds through the background on fire. And all the while, Leo plays the reluctant hero.

“I’m guessing you’re either a cop or a criminal,” a grateful Cali says, trying to get to know her protector.

“And I’m guessing you’re either a pain in my ass,” he responds, “or a pain in my ass.”

The concept of The Purge — a twisted scenario in which letting people blow off steam one night a year seemingly all but eliminates crime and unemployment during the other 364 days — teems with possibilities.

But this is the second consecutive summer in which those possibilities, crafted once again by writer-director James DeMonaco, aren’t realized.

The sequel ditches the original’s gated community with its fancy state-of-the-art yet ultimately fallible security systems to show how the rest of this brave new world lives. There’s a cottage industry of street hustlers hawking any kind of weapon you desire. And there are plenty of men offering to spend the night with single women, you know, for “protection.”

The grimly absurd moments that made “The Purge” somewhat successful — the suburbanite blithely sharpening a machete in his yard; the talk radio host urging listeners to “release the beast” as though The Purge were merely an energy drink or a body spray — are largely missing this time around. Although there is some talk of having a “successful cleanse” as if everyone involved is about to spend the week drinking a mix of lemonade and cayenne pepper.

And although “Anarchy” further establishes some of the mythology surrounding the New Founding Fathers who created this government-sanctioned slaughter, it gets some of that mythology wrong. The 2023 version is referred to as the sixth annual Purge, but “The Purge,” which was set in 2022, opened with footage from the 2017 Purge. You do the math.

The sequel isn’t as claustrophobic as its predecessor. And the sight of Williams, aka Omar from “The Wire,” raining down F-bombs and hot lead is always welcome.

But while “The Purge: Anarchy” has some interesting ideas, like most of its victims, they’re poorly executed.

Christopher Lawrence is an entertainment writer at the Las Vegas Review-Journal Contact him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com

 

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