Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: The Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year was written and directed by James DeMonaco.

Demonaco previously wrote Jack (the one in which Robin Williams plays a ten year old with an accelerated aging disease), The Negotiators, Assault On Precinct 13 (the 2005 remake) and Skinwalkers. He wrote and directed both The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy. The Purge: Election Year
 is the third film in The Purge franchise.

I absolutely hated the first movie (giving it a D+!), as it seemed like a made for Siffy movie that was somehow released to theaters by mistake. It had an intriguing premise that was completely wasted on a bland and claustrophobic home invasion tale. I wanted to see what the Purge was like all across the country, not watch bunch of morons hide inside their house for ninety minutes.

Fortunately the second film was a vast improvement (which I will admit is damning it with faint praise). No longer were we stuck in a single location with uninteresting characters, as we finally got to venture out on the streets during the annual Purge.

The Purge: Election Year is more of the same. Quality-wise it's about the same as the previous film, and features a very similar plot (trying to get off the streets and find refuge during the annual Purge).

The film has a gritty, urban feel to it, and feels very much like the type of low budget action movies Cannon put out in the 1980s and 1990s.

It also feels more than a little like John Carpenter's Escape From New York, as Leo Barnes tries to protect a presidential candidate in the middle of a dangerous, lawless city. I'm betting writer/director James DeMonaco is a big fan of Carpenter. 

There's some interesting world building here, including "Purge Tourism," in which people from other countries travel to America for the express purpose of committing consequence-free murder during the Purge. I have a feeling that's something that would actually happen if the situation was real.

That said, we're now three movies into this series, and DeMonaco still hasn't explained all the intricacies of The Purge. I still have many questions about how the whole thing works. We're told that all crime is legal for twelve hours.The films of course always focus on murder, but what about other, lesser crimes? What if you robbed a bank during The Purge? Would you get to keep the money free and clear, or would you be arrested for possession of stolen property the minute it ended?

As in the previous films, the politics here are overly simplistic and naive— a government-sanctioned culling of the poor so the rich won't have to support them. It's all about one step above your drunken uncle saying he could fix the economy by printing more money. I'm still not quite sure if this is DeMonaco's attempt at satire or black humor, or if he truly believes it.

I fully expected this film to feature broad, over-the-top analogues of both Hillary and Trump. Alas, it did not. Talk about a missed opportunity!

The end of the film wraps up the trilogy and seemingly puts an end to the franchise— for now.


The Plot:

We open on Purge Night in 2022, as the Roan family is held captive and tortured by a sadistic Purger. He tells them he's going to kill all of them but one, and forces the mother to decide which family member will survive. 

Flash forward to 2040. Charlie Roan (played by Elizabeth Mitchell) was apparently the one chosen to survive her family's slaughter. Roan is now a Senator, and is running for President. If elected, she promises to end The Purge, which she believes exists only to eliminate the poor and homeless.

Roan is running against Minister Edwidge Owens, a member of the New Founding Fathers of America. The NFFA are naturally big fans of The Purge, and see Roan as a threat to the status quo. They suspend the government ban against attacking elected officials in order to eliminate Roan on the upcoming Purge Night.

Meanwhile, Laney Rucker, an EMT, visits the deli of Joe Dixon (played by Mykelti Williamson, aka Bubba of Forest Gump fame). Joe and his assistant Marcos catch a pair of crazed teenaged girls shoplifting. Joe throws them out of the store, causing them to vow revenge against him. To make things worse, Joe's insurance company unexpectedly jacks up his Purge premiums to the point where he can no longer afford them. With no insurance, he decides to spend Purge Night guarding his store. 

Roan's head of security is Leo Barnes (played by Frank Grillo), who was the ostensible star of the previous film. He tries to get her to spend Purge Night in a protected bunker, but she insists on staying in her home to prove she's "one of the people." Barnes takes elaborate measures to lock down Roan's home and protect her.

The annual Purge then begins. Laney and her partner Dawn roam the city in their EMT van, offering medical care and protection to the wounded. Surprisingly, they're left alone by the majority of Purgers. 

True to their word, the crazy teens come back to attack the deli, but Joe and Marcos are able to drive them off, wounding one of them. 

Things go OK for Roan, until one of her guards betrays her and disables the security system, allowing a Neo Nazi armed force, led by Earl Danziger, to enter her house and attack. Barnes manages to get Roan out of the house, but is shot in the shoulder. He detonates a bomb he hid in the house, killing several of the enemy soldiers.

Barnes and Roan dash through the streets, trying to find a safe place to wait out the Purge. They're captured by Russian Murder Tourists, who've flown to America to murder without consequence. Luckily Joe and Marcos appear and shoot the Russians. Everyone then hides out inside Joe's deli. The crazy teens return with reinforcements, but Laney runs them over with her EMT van (!). She then takes Barnes, Roan, Joe and Marcus to a safe house.

After a perilous ride through the city, Laney takes them to an underground hideout full of anti-Purge rebels, led by Dante Bishop. The rebels plan to assassinate Owens to ensure Roan wins the election and ends The Purge. Roan tries to talk them out of this plan, fearing Owens' death would make him a martyr. 

They're forced to flee the hideout as another death squad arrives. In the confusion, Roan is captured. She's taken to an NFFA midnight mass, where Owens plans to kill her in front of a church full of pro-Purge supporters.

Barnes, Joe, Marcos, Laney and Bishop launch a rescue mission. They infiltrate the NFFA church through an old tunnel system (there's always a tunnel system). Warrens, the leader of the NFFA, starts to slit Roan's throat with a ritual knife. Marcos kills him, saving Roan's life. The church erupts into chaos, as many NFFA members are killed. Bishop captures Owens and starts to kill him, but Roan talks him out of it. Bishop tells Roan that she'd better win.

Just then Danzinger and the neo Nazis attack, and Bishop is killed. Barnes and Danzinger battle one another to the death. After a brutal fight, Barnes gets the upper hand and kills Danziger. As Roan is being led to safety, Joe is fatally wounded. He tells Marco he's been like a son to him (sniff!) and leaves him the deli.

Two months after The Purge (in May?), Roan wins the election by a landslide. Barnes stays by her side as her chief of security. Marcos and Laney remodel the deli, and run it in Joe's memory.

• I don't have a lot to say about this film, so this'll be brief.

Look closely, kids, and you'll spot a film credit you don't see very often: "Filmed on location in Woonsocket, Rhode Island."

• If you've not seen the second film, it's likely you'd have no earthly idea who Leo Barnes is supposed to be or why he's in the movie. He's given absolutely zero introduction, simply appearing onscreen with no explanation or fanfare.

• Does the presidency work differently in 2040? Senator Roan promises that if elected, her first official act will be to eliminate The Purge. That's not how it works— the President can't just make a sweeping, fundamental change on a whim like that. That's why we have the Senate, to prevent such things.

• This is some hardcore nitpicking, but what the heck. At one point Joe mentions that politicians have been screwing over "the little people" for 200 years. I assume he means that the government has been crooked ever since it was founded in 1776. He's probably being general here and 200 is a nice round number, but this movie takes place in 2040. That's some pretty poor math on Joe's part.

• In the first film, a homeless man named Dwayne (played by Edwin Hodge) is out on the streets during the annual Purge, and given refuge by the Sandin family. Dwayne pops up again in the second film, as part of an anti-Purge resistance. 

In this new film Dwayne has apparently changed his name to Dante Bishop (or is he supposed to be a new character?) and is now the leader of the Resistance. He's the only character to appear in all three films. He dies in this one, so unless he comes back as his twin brother in the fourth, there'll be no more Dwayne to connect the films.

• If you're a member of the Crips, you'll be glad to hear you've got job security. According to this film the gang will still be around in 2040.

• Like most films today, this one features a series of character posters spotlighting several of the more memorable Purgers in the film. You'd have to reeeeeally be a huge fan of this series to want to collect 'em all.

The character posters, while completely unnecessary, are all pretty well done. They're definitely better than this teaser poster! Every time I see it, it conjures up the image of a supermodel vomiting after binging on a hoagie.

• Why is the presidential election being held in May? I thought it was always in November. Is this another thing that's changed in the future? Or did the events of The Purge cause the government to hold a special election?

• As the film ends, President-elect Roan is true to her word, and abolishes the annual Purge. This would seem to put an end to the franchise once and for all. 

If you're a fan of the movies, I wouldn't worry too much about it. If the box office numbers are good, rest assured they'll find a way to undo the events of this film and The Purge: Impeachment will hit theaters in a year or two.

In fact as the film fades to black, we hear a radio report that pro-Purge supporters have taken to the street in protest, all but guaranteeing there'll be a fourth film.

They could also go the prequel route as well, showing us the very first Purge.

The Purge: Election Year feels like a throwback to the low budget action movies of the 1980s, which is a good thing. It continues the world building set forth in the second film, and while it feels like a dark comedy, it doesn't go quite far enough with the satire. Quality-wise, it's about on par with the second film. I give it a B-.

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