[Screen It]


(2016) (Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell) (R)

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Action/Thriller: A cop turned bodyguard tries to keep a presidential candidate alive during an annual, government-sanctioned, twelve hour period of anarchy where anything goes, including murder.
It's time for the annual purge, a nationwide, government-sanctioned, twelve hour period of anarchy where anything goes, including murder. Run by the New Founding Fathers of America and its leader, Caleb Warrens (RAYMOND J. BARRY), it's supposedly designed to keep crime down for the rest of the year by allowing people to release their immoral and violent inclinations in an orgy of mayhem and death. But not everyone is in support of the annual event, including Senator Charlene "Charlie" Roan (ELIZABETH MITCHELL). She lost her family to that eighteen years ago and is now running on the platform of eliminating it, something that doesn't sit well with Caleb or Roan's rival candidate, Edwidge Owens (KYLE SECOR).

Also against the event is rebel leader Dante Bishop (EDWIN HODGE), nearly a purge victim years ago, while deli owner Joe Dixon (MYKELTI WILLIAMSON) doesn't like it simply because it puts his business at risk, something made worse this year when his purge insurance rates skyrocket. Accordingly, he decides to stay put and protect his place, with his loyal employee Marcos (JOSEPH JULIAN SORIA) staying by his side, while shop regular and reformed bad girl Laney Rucker (BETTY GABRIEL) will spend the evening riding around providing assistance to the wounded.

Similarly staying put is Sen. Roan, thanks to former police sergeant turned bodyguard Leo Barnes (FRANK GRILLO) who's worried about her safety and thus has nothing on his mind but keeping her alive overnight. But not only must he contend with the regular purge participants, but also the government that's announced for the first time that no one -- including high-ranking government officials -- is exempt from the killings. Knowing full-well that's intended to have Charlie murdered, Leo does what he can to prevent those sent to do her in, including the resilient and determined hitman, Earl Danzinger (TERRY SERPICO).

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
In 2013's "The Purge," Ethan Hawke played a home security system salesman who ends up holed up inside his house on the night of a once-a-year, 12-hour period where all crimes, including murder, were legal. In short, it was a "let's keep 'em out" sort of story that's fueled many a thriller, coupled with some intriguing and decidedly deeper thematic elements about "thinning the herd," so to speak.

Writer/director James DeMonaco then returned to the same story universe in 2014's "The Purge: Anarchy" that thankfully wasn't just a retread of the original and wisely opened up the plotline by moving the action outdoors. Namely, that involved a couple trying to get home before the half-day mayhem, only to be stuck out in it, all while a cop (Frank Grillo) was using that time to clear up some unfinished police "business." It ended up being somewhat akin to "The Warriors" where a small group of characters made their way across a city at night, trying to avoid the bad folks.

Since both films didn't cost much to make but generated decent cash flow at the box office, we now have "The Purge: Election Year," with DeMonaco returning at the helm and on the keyboard. Considering the overall storyline and how real-life politicians like to use gerrymandering on geographical boundaries to ensure political victories, one wouldn't be faulted for thinking the film might involve the use of the purge for the same sort of effect. Kill enough people in districts that favor your opponent and the odds of you winning go up. Easy peasy, purgeasy.

While an election is certainly involved (duh), DeMonaco hasn't gone in that particular killing route, and instead sort of follows the "Escape From New York" and, more closely, the recent "London Has Fallen" storyline where a bodyguard (Grillo changing jobs from last time around) must maneuver a high-ranking government official (Elizabeth Mitchell playing a presidential candidate) through the murder and mayhem of 12 hours of purging in our nation's capital. And she's not just any politico, but one who wants to repeal the annual murder event due to losing her family in the past during that.

Accordingly, the powers that be (a bunch of two dimensional characters played by the likes of Kyle Secor and Raymond J. Berry) send an assassin named Earl (I kid you not, and he's played in lackluster lead villain form by Terry Serpico, a far better name for a baddie were it not associated with a cop character played by Al Pacino long ago) to kill her.

And that's about it for the overall plot, with a rebel against the government (Edwin Hodge), a bad girl turned decent -- but still deadly when needed -- woman (Betty Gabriel), and a deli shop owner (Mykelti Williamson) and his loyal employee (Joseph Julian Soria) trying to help them survive the night.

It's interesting that considering the themes at play, the filmmaker doesn't ever delve any deeper than superficially in exploring the common folk on the killing side. There are lots of wild outfits, masks and even vehicles, but we know next to nothing about any of those inside all of that. Even some who show up twice are eliminated too soon when they could have been used to greater effect in terms of being additional complications for the "good guys." Instead, they're just cogs in the killing machine, as are some foreign purge tourists.

Like before, the action is decent enough, but implausibilities abound. All of which means "The Purge: Election Year" plays out like a straightforward but otherwise unremarkable thriller that never works enough with its more interesting themes. And thus it gets a vote of just 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 28, 2016 / Posted July 1, 2016

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