The Purge: Election Year (2016)

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*. In my notes on The Expendables 3 the only defence I could offer for watching such a movie was that I’d seen the first two and thought I had to see things through to the end. I blamed inertia. I liked the first two Purge movies (The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy) rather more than the Expendables franchise, but still didn’t feel particularly drawn to this outing. And yet, here I am. And here we are.
*. The DVD for this one has a blurb calling it “the best Purge film yet.” I’m not impressed by that. I think it’s the worst of the Purge movies, and that by some margin. I thought this movie was total garbage. It started off bad and just kept getting worse as it went along.
*. Where the earlier films were dystopic action films with heavy political subtexts, this one is a political film with a lot of perfunctory and (by now) familiar action sequences.
*. The politics are obvious and delivered without any subtlety. The theme is class war, which might be mistaken for race war. The racial angle, however, is handled in an even more clumsy manner than the politics. The heroic, self-sacrificing black store owner Joe Dixon is given a bunch of terrible lines. Surrounded by a gang of crips he remarks “There are a whole bunch of Negros coming this way, and we’re looking like a big ol’ bucket of fried chicken.” Ugh. Then, defending the senator and her bodyguard from the (black) underground: “I ain’t gonna let y’all shoot these white folks. These are our white people.” That’s just awful.
*. Just from this alone I’d call this a terrible script. But there’s even more wrong with it. The basic outline of the story is predictable in all its essential plot points: the senator’s betrayal, the uniting of the two plot strands when the senator falls in with the convenience store gang, the senator’s capture, the team getting in touch with the underground, the senator’s rescue. You probably had all this figured out in the first ten minutes.

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*. There are some swerves within this basic outline, however, that struck me as bizarre. For one thing, the story wastes a lot of time introducing characters that are later disposed of in a surprisingly casual manner. I’m thinking in particular of the Candy Girls, but also Rondo (the man cuffed in the triage van), and the Russian Purgers dressed up like American historical figures. That last case might be the most surprising of all, since the costumes are one of the few places where this series shows any originality, and Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty were very prominent in the advertising and promotion for the movie. But they’re only on screen for a few minutes.
*. All the usual improbabilities with the Purge movies are back, but I thought this one made even less sense. Why were the Candy Girls so set on breaking into a store that they knew was defended by at least a couple of guys who were armed to the teeth and would have the drop on them? Why is the Purge so popular with voters when it looks like the vast majority of people just want to survive the night? Does it stand to reason that foreigners would be allowed into the country for the Purge? And finally why are the New Fathers no longer just a white economic elite but now a bunch of slavering fundamentalist maniacs? How could such a bunch of whackos run any kind of country?
*. I guess one response to that would be Donald Trump. This movie came out during the 2016 U.S. presidential season and it was commonly seen as a commentary on what was happening: with the NFFA being a radical version of the Republican party and Senator Charlie Roan being Hillary Clinton. Marcos is a Mexican immigrant with a criminal past who nevertheless is a hero. When Trump announced that his campaign slogan for 2020 would be “Keep America Great,” it was noticed that this was the same as the ad line for this movie. I guess all of this works, though like everything else about the movie it’s a very crude message, crudely made.
*. The series keeps doing great box office so I expect we’ll see more of them. I don’t think writer-director James DeMonaco, who has helmed each of the first three movies, wants to do another, which might allow for some fresh ideas. From the final seconds of this one it seems as though The Purge: Civil War is next up. I don’t think things can get any worse . . .

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