The clever conceit behind James DeMonaco's 2013 sleeper hit The Purge was not that American society had resolved its crime inequality/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 immune to its impact but benefiting and even profiting from the mayhem — until it invades their community and homes.
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 man bent on vengeance. It's preachier, more diverse in its casting. All of which make it more specific and limit it. Throw in generally lackluster performances and illogical plot twists, and Anarchy is seriously crippled.
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, piling into armored school buses, 'roid-raging skinheads and tractor-trailers full of jackbooted thugs.
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A revolutionary named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) is preaching against the purge, calling it a racist way for the rich and powerful 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 just 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.
One scowling stranger (Frank Grillo) has armed himself to the teeth and set out for revenge. But these people in jeopardy fall into his path and interfere with his plans.
The film is more 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 closer to a sermon. And it's very close to being an utter bore.
DeMonaco plainly was given this sequel order as a rush job, and the lack of polish shows. Characters act against their self-interest and their morals. They stop to bicker in deadly situations and clumsily act as if they've read the script and know they aren't in danger in this sequence. To a one, they're blasé, summoning rage or terror only once or twice in the third act. We don't care for any of them, and Grillo plays his hard- hearted killer with barely a hint of wit or heart.
That reduces the film to a first-person shooter video game with a dose of politics added, because The Purge has pretty much run its course as a violent big-screen social satire.