‘The Purge: Election Year’: Bullets blast away any bit of insight
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Anything seems possible in politics these days.
It’s been a presidential campaign like no other, with seemingly every day bringing another jaw-dropping development, many of them (though by no means all) arriving courtesy of Donald Trump.
Build a wall that Mexico will pay for, ban Muslims, kill families of terrorists — any kind of statement seems possible. I went into “The Purge: Election Year” with that in mind, thinking that in this of all years, despite its grisly pedigree, the movie might be a thoughtful meditation on taking things too far.
There are some good ideas in there, even timely. But eventually, like everything else in the movie, they’re washed away in a sea of blood and a hail of bullets. When the audience in the screening I attended cheered after some of the murders took place, you wonder if the real question isn’t: Is it even possible to take things too far anymore?
“The Purge: Election Day” is the third film in the series, after “The Purge” (2013) and “The Purge: Anarchy” (2014). James DeMonaco wrote and directed the first two, and returns for the third. The core of the films remains the same: For 12 hours, once a year, all crime is legal, even murder (which seems to be the only one people commit).
But this year change is in the air. Charlene “Charlie” Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a U.S. senator, is running for president on a platform that includes getting rid of the Purge, and she’s gaining traction. (She has particularly personal reasons for her stance.)
Roan and her followers claim that while the Purge is supposed to be a cathartic experience that has helped unemployment and crime rates plummet, it’s really a money-making scheme for gun manufacturers and a way to cull the population of minorities and the poor, who are killed in disproportionately large numbers.
The candidate for the New Founding Fathers of America (Kyle Secor), the political group that created the Purge, obviously wants to keep things as they are. He leads followers in shouts of “Purge and Purify!” a rather chilling refrain.
A new wrinkle this year eliminates the off-limits status of top-level government officials, meaning Roan is a particularly big target, and a legal one, to boot. Sergeant (Frank Grillo), the protagonist from “The Purge: Anarchy,” is now her chief of security, and he’s got his work cut out for him.
In a side plot that will inevitably cross paths with the main one, Mykelti Williamson plays a store owner whose Purge insurance gets jacked up the night before the big event, leaving him no choice but to defend the place himself. Yes, as with anything, scam artists are making a killing, so to speak.
And in a nice touch, young people from other countries are flooding the U.S., looking to take part. They’re dubbed “murder tourists,” and to them, this is what America now represents.
There are gun battles galore, as well as a kind of cross between a Black Mass and a Nazi rally, which at least finally answers the question we’ve been asking: Is it possible to go too far? Evidently.
Some may see elements of Trump in Secor’s candidate, and elements of Hillary Clinton in Mitchell’s. But really, when everyone is running around chasing each other with guns and knives, political nuance takes a back seat.
Then again, you could say the same thing about a Trump rally. Political nuance — even mature, thoughtful politics — has taken a backseat to knee-jerk reactions and Twitter responses, to the extent that the 10-second sound bite people used to complain about has come to sound like statesmanship. Where does it all lead? We’ll find out. At the moment, “The Purge: Election Year” still plays like a dystopian nightmare. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by James DeMonaco. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated R (for disturbing bloody violence and strong language). Opens Friday at local theaters.