I have a strict rule regarding political debates spilling into my personal page, and that rule is "NO." I will happily and respectfully discuss and debate any issue you like privately if you're so inclined, but I'm mindful of all of my readers and refuse to turn a movie review into a political forum. Then again, some movies come along with huge chips on their shoulders and practically BEG me to knock them off. This is one of those movies... so my challenge is to see if I can review it impartially whether it supports or attacks my personal beliefs. My friends on the Left will recognize THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR as a take on their worst nightmares regarding the Religious Right... and my Right-leaning friends will either take offense at the film as anti-American or laugh it off as a joke. I'm here to determine whether or not it works as a movie.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is the fourth in the series... okay, it's the THIRD if you don't count MEET THE BLACKS, which you probably shouldn't... although it DID get to use the concept and call "The Purge" by name with impunity, didn't it? Okay, ELECTION YEAR is the third in the OFFICIAL series written and directed by James DeMonaco. Briefly put, DeMonaco struck gold with a high concept whether or not you find it believable; and I found the first two films reasonably engaging even as they petered out trying to come up with solid endings.
So now we're at least twenty years past the takeover of the "New Founding Fathers of America" (a story which has yet to be told in detail in this series and which is probably best left to the imagination). Of course, there are no science-fiction devices or speculations on the look of the future... THE PURGE is 'really' supposed to be happening today as we know it, and ELECTION YEAR is primed to push almost every hot button at its disposal as a female Senator (Elizabeth Mitchell) dedicated to ending the annual sanctioned crime spree (which cost her her entire family years ago) takes on a charismatic Minister (Kyle Secor) for the nation's highest office. Naturally, no political parties are named, but viewers today immediately jump and take for granted that this is supposed to represent Clinton vs. Trump. Okay... one of them's a woman, and that's about as far as the actual similarity goes, but I didn't find the Minister particularly Trump-ish and would suggest that this film was written with Ted Cruz in mind.
Senator Roan is getting dangerously close to knocking off Minister Owens, but hey, there's a Purge coming up--what better time to finally scrap the rule that elected officials are off-limits? The Senator is under the protection of security guard Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, who purged his conscience without actually taking revenge in the second entry), and the two quickly find themselves on their own when the rest of their detail is abruptly picked off through an act of treachery. The only thing working in Roan's favor is that the opposition needs to keep her alive... for the moment. Long story short, Roan and Barnes find themselves teaming up with black deli owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) and his Mexican employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), who had joined forces to protect the former's freshly-uninsured business. Meanwhile, revolutionary Dante Bishop (the survivor of the first PURGE film, played by Edwin Hodge) has his own plan regarding election reform, and Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) is handling rescue operations in a super-fortified 'triage van.' And everybody who's still standing is going to wind up in church in time for the midnight Purge Mass, where it's all going to 'go down.'
Okay. You want simple button-pushing? THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR has no shortage of it, from Black Lives Matter imagery on one side to swastikas, Confederate battle flags and (just in case you missed the point) even a "White Power" emblem sported by the skinhead squad hired by the Minister to abduct Roan and wipe out anyone in her entourage. (This pre-Orlando production shies completely away from LGBT issues, but that's about it.) Just to be 'fair,' though, while the minority heroes are now working hard and abiding by the law, they're obliged to point out that they weren't always saints (because they need to be able to use weapons expertly and call upon surprise allies from the old days when things get nasty). Oh, it's also worth pointing out that while we've apparently eliminated the threat of international terrorism from this future, we're now attracting 'murder tourists' who visit from all around the world just to get in on the Purge action for themselves.
You want effectively frightening images and tableaux? You won't be disappointed with the eerie and disturbing acts of random carnage or the series mainstay of the Purge-party masks fashioned by the celebrants (the flashing neon-green Statue of Liberty face seems to have won this year's popularity contest even though the wearer doesn't last very long) but almost immediately removed in case we can't figure out who they really are (such as the obnoxious "Candy Girls," whose exit from the film will most likely inspire a round of applause). There are also plenty of neat and amusing surprises along the way, such as an Edgar Allan Poe device that swings out to endanger our protagonists out of nowhere, and the overall pacing is probably the best the series has shown to date.
You want comic relief? Well, Williamson has a line involving a bucket of chicken that caught me off guard and made me chortle out loud. Shame on me for still having to repress my guffaw five minutes later, but that and similar character moments are actually funnier than anything in the entirety of MEET THE BLACKS.
You want a brutal, breathtaking, savage and intense battle for survival? Then you need to see GREEN ROOM.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR certainly delivers, especially for fans of the first two films, but it, too, falls prey to an extended and hysterical climax (beginning with the fever-pitch 'evangelist' experience in which we learn that not all Christ figures actually WANT to be Christ figures) with too many endings... although the final, FINAL finale the film settles on certainly rings true. If this sounds up your alley, chances are you've already seen it; but if you're on the fence (either politically or movie-wise), you should check it out. And decide for yourself. Fairly and impartially.
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