Movie Review: ‘Purge’ sequel binges on dark, dreary mayhem

Out on the town: Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Carmen Ejogo and Frank Grillo in
Out on the town: Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Carmen Ejogo and Frank Grillo in "The Purge: Anarchy."

“The Purge: Anarchy”
★★

The government-sanctioned mayhem continues unabated in this grisly follow-up to last year’s surprise hit “The Purge,” but the wickedly satiric sense of humor that made the original worth watching is nowhere to be found.

That’s a shame, because writer/director James DeMonaco created a classic action-exploitation concept when he came up with the Purge — a near-future American holiday making all crime legal for 12 hours, with murder strongly encouraged.

It came with an edgy political subtext, namely that America’s ultra-conservative New Founding Fathers were using the Purge as a means to thin out the ranks of the poor. So the occasional flashes of scathing wit, last time, as upper-middle-class family man Ethan Hawke (who’d made a killing selling elaborate home-defense systems), fended off an attack by psycho-killing prep-school-kids. While saying stuff like “Things like this aren’t supposed to happen in our neighborhood.”

There was also plenty of grim, brutal violence in “The Purge,” make no mistake, but at least DeMonaco toyed with some clever ironies while working his way through the fairly standard-issue home-invasion thriller. In “The Purge: Anarchy,” unfortunately, grim and brutal is pretty much all we get.

One year after the previous Purge, reluctant hero The Sergeant (veteran player of tough guys Frank Grillo) is donning his bulletproof vest and climbing into his homemade armor-plated car and preparing to wreak some vengeance on someone who’s done him wrong. We know he’s hero material because he isn’t wearing ghoul makeup or a freaky mask, but also because he stops to save a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul) and a bickering young couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez). And becomes their grudging and annoyed leader on a cross-town journey to safety.

It’s easy to understand the sarge’s annoyance. The people he’s taken under his wing are all rolling-eyeball worthy and his own super-competent combat skills are wasted on wasting a homicidal cavalcade of “Mad Max”-types on wheels, religious loonies, freakazoids in hoodies, yellow-toothed sexual predators and deranged rich folk who have their victims delivered like pizza. It all goes down in an atmosphere of maximum bleakness, punctuated only by occasional outbursts of heavy emotion on screen or cheers from the audience when some bad guy or another gets riddled with bullets.

Especially the ultra-rich bad guys. There’s a revolutionary sub-plot in “Anarchy” featuring an armed-uprising led by a pseudo-Marxist people’s hero named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) that could come to the fore in another sequel, but let’s hope not. The guy actually wears a beret during his rants and nobody says a word about it — not a good sign.

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