Movie Review ~ The Purge: Anarchy

purge_anarchy_ver17

The Facts:

Synopsis: The Purge is a night where all crime is legal and all hospitals, fire stations, poison control centers and police stations in the United States are closed down for 12 hours.  A year after the events of the first film, five people meet in the streets and try to survive the night.

Stars: Frank Grillo, Michael K. Williams, Carmen Ejogo, Zoë Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Keith Stanfield 

Director: James DeMonaco 

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  A year ago most pundits would have predicted that The Internship, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaugh’s Google comedy would have easily topped the weekend box office thanks to the reunion of its Wedding Crashers stars and a prime early June opening weekend.  Then people started getting a look at the movie, deemed it middling, and the buzz turned instead to the darker material of the low-budget thriller The Purge.  Made for peanuts ($3 million dollars) and arriving without much fanfare aside from several well timed social media pushes and spooky promotional material, The Purge surged, making $34 million smackeroos…12 times its budget.

Topping out at $64 million in box office receipts, even if the film ultimately wasn’t that great it was inevitable that a sequel was greenlit before the sun set on that first weekend.   So here we are now a year later being treated to what could be the start of a profitable franchise for Universal Pictures…even if the overall quality of the material hasn’t improved much.

There’s something creatively ghoulish about the concept surrounding The Purge; less than a decade from now America will be largely crime free due to 12 hours one night a year when all crime is legal.  That nasty neighbor who lets his dog pee on your hydrangea?  Hit him over the head with a bat.  The barista that keeps screwing up your cappuccino order?  Slit her throat.  All bets are off, and it’s helped to keep the other 364 days safe.

The first film took place at a house in the middle of a posh gated community and focused on a family’s fight to keep ghastly Purge participants out on the curb.  The sequel, as most horror sequels are apt to do, expands its cast, concept, kills, and setting to only mediocre results.  Instead of simply remaking the cat and mouse game of the original, The Purge: Anarchy introduces new targets navigating their way out of the inner city…aka Purge central.

Returning writer/director James DeMonaco again scores points for turning his film ever so slightly into the morality tale it really is deep down but can’t quite seal the deal when it comes to providing dramatic support for his concept.  He’s scripted rather dumb, unlikable characters that speak mostly in questions (“Who are they?” “Don’t you know?” “How am I supposed to know?” “Weren’t you supposed to know?) that are forced to bond together if they are to survive the night.

While DeMonaco had Ethan Hawke to head the original film, the sequel features the equally appealing Frank Grillo (The Grey, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as a man that sets out into the Purge night for revenge  but winds up saving a mother (Carmen Ejogo, Sparkle) and daughter (Zoë Soul, Prisoners) from an elite squad picking off residents from the lower income part of the city.  Soon they’re joined by milquetoast couple Zach Gilford (The Last Stand) & Kiele Sanchez fending off mask wearing killers scooping up unfortunate souls for a sinister purpose revealed later on.

The fivesome go on a quest straight out of Adventures in Babysitting as they look for a car to get them out of the city.  Working on bland street sets seemingly constructed for multiple uses by numerous films, there’s not a lot of tension to be had…though there is a dandy of a jump scare early on in the film.  Almost thirty minutes longer than the previous film, the extra time isn’t put to good use as we are witness to scene after scene of bickering within the group and the dodging of multiple bullets throughout the night.

Grillo is a valuable character actor that has yet to really capitalize on his break out star potential, even after turning in some great performances over past few years.  He perhaps gives the soggy material more than it deserves in terms of character development but both he (and his hair) are the clear standouts here.  Ejogo and Soul may be the least convincing mother daughter duo in recent memory, not helped by the fact that both actresses mentally check out before the first reel is over.  It’s hard to say what real life couple Gilford and Sanchez are up to here because they’re assigned the worst kind of drivel dialogue: the self-narration.  Speaking everything they’re doing because DeMonaco couldn’t or wouldn’t find a more stylish way to do it, they stumble through the film as the token white people that are clueless and ultimately helpless.

Though the film starts off strong, ironically it’s when The Purge actually begins that the cracks begin to show and grow with each passing second.  While there’s some intriguing material surrounding the government and their ulterior motives surrounding The Purge, it’s quickly relegated to a marginal subplot in favor of awkwardly moving the five hunted souls from point A to point B.

I’m still hoping this franchise finds a way to make the most out of its concept in future installments.  The premise lends itself well to the kind of isolated story telling that could go on forever…but only if the films find the characters and setting to support it.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Purge: Anarchy

purge_anarchy

Synopsis: A young couple works to survive on the streets after their car breaks down right as the annual purge commences

Release Date:  June 20, 2014

Thoughts: A sequel to 2013’s The Purge was pretty much guaranteed when that very modestly budgeted film surprised everyone by raking in some serious cash during its opening weekend.  Sure, the film dropped like a stone in the weeks following but success isn’t measured in longevity anymore…it’s all about that critical first few days.  While The Purge was a movie with a diabolical concept, it suffered in an execution that didn’t know how to finish what it started in a satisfying way. I’m not expecting the sequel to be much different and can see future installments being a yearly occurrence ala the Paranormal Activity (Paranormal Activity 4 & Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and Saw films.

Movie Review ~ The Last Stand

last_stand_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Genesis Rodriguez, Daniel Henney, John Patrick Amedori

Director: Kim Jee-Woon

Rated: R

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  He’s back.  I mean, he always said he’d be back…right?  After exercising his political muscles as Governor of California and appearing in a few cameo roles (like The Expendables 2) Schwarzenegger is back headlining another shoot ‘em up actioner that’s heavy on ammunition but light on any semblance of subtlety.  Ok, I’m sure you wouldn’t be lining up to see a Schwarzenegger flick that’s described as subtle but is it too much to ask for a film of this ilk to play to the strengths of its star?

Though it’s constructed and filmed with its head firmly planted in 80’s action flicks, The Last Stand seems to forget that these films were fun at heart so it sacrifices some great camp opportunities in favor of letting its cast shamefully overact amidst dizzying gun battles and laughable moments of misguided exposition.  It’s probably not a good thing if you come away from a film saying that Schwarzenegger was the best actor of the bunch…or am I wrong?

Schwarzenegger heads the cast as a sheriff of a small border town going head to head with minions of a drug lord (Noriega, Tesis) that have descended into town to clear the way for their boss to continue his escape from federal agents into Mexico.  The premise sounds like a perfect fit for Schwarzenegger and to a large extent the actor glides easily with the material.  The problem is that the soggy script from Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, and George Nolfi feels like it has been around for over a decade and it’s gathered a lot of dust.  I keep considering that maybe it was a pet project for Schwarzenegger before he took office.

Respected Korean director Kim Jee-Woon (I Saw the Devil) is making his US debut with the film and I can only liken it to when Hong Kong’s equally well-regarded John Woo made his first picture stateside, the misfire Jean Claude Van-Damme vehicle Hard Target.  It’s clear the director has style and good instincts but he seems restricted here and never guides the picture to achieve a balance between all of the elements it introduces. 

That goes double for a largely forgettable cast that’s all over the map.  Whitaker looks totally lost in it all…until the movie forgets that he’s a top billed actor and jettisons his character for the latter half of the film.  Knoxville continues to play arrested development imbeciles all the way to the bank and his pajama wearing, gun-loving doofus is anything but the comedic relief it’s intended to be.  As the right hand man to the kingpin, Stormare once again goes for the gold in the crazy meter and achieves liftoff early on.  Alexander, Gilford, Guzman, and Santoro are Schwarzenegger’s allies but any attempt to make them dynamic characters is a failure. 

That leaves us with Schwarzenegger to make the picture tolerable and he almost makes it work.  With some guffaw-inducing scenes where he looks positively crazy thanks to his nutso hairstyle, the movie begins to buckle under the weight of so much wasted energy.  At a baffling 107 minutes the movie could use a 15 minute trim, tightening up the action scenes and losing needless detours involving Schwarzenegger’s past.

Though there are a few clever methods used to dispatch the endless array of bad guys, The Last Stand is sadly not the comeback picture that I’m sure Schwarzenegger intended it to be — it’s embarrassing box office performance assures that no sequel will be considered.  Schwarzenegger already has several other projects in the works so let’s chalk this one up to the star dipping his toes back in the pool he helped fill throughout the 80’s and 90’s.