The Purge: Election Year


Ol' Honest Abe hates what his country has become.

Ol’ Honest Abe hates what his country has become.

(2016) Thriller (Universal) Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Barry Nolan, Liza Colon-Zayas, Ethan Phillips, Adam Cantor, Christopher James Baker, Jared Kemp, Brittany Mirabile, Raymond J. Barry, Naeem Duren, Naheem Garcia, Steven Barkhimer, Tom Kemp, Portland Helmich. Directed by James DeMonaco

 

We are a violent nation. There’s no disputing it. It runs in our veins, out the pores in our skin, and in every crack and crevice of our souls. We never left the gunfight at the OK Corral; we’re still out in the middle of the noonday sun, blazing away with our Colts – or just sitting on the side of the street, watching the carnage from a safe distance.

But there are those who are tired of it, who think that the Purge is being used to cleanse the poorer neighborhoods so that the government doesn’t have to spend as much on social programs. Senator Charlie Roan (Mitchell) is running for President on a platform of bringing the Purge to an end. She has seen how the New Founding Fathers, in the person of candidate Minister Edwidge Owens (Secor) who is running against her, have been lining their own pockets.

Of course the powers that be can’t have their cash cow being threatened, so they conspire to bring the crusading Senator to a sticky end. They enact a law which exempts nobody from the Purge – which the Senator would be because of her office – and look to place some moles in her team. The only one she can really trust is her security chief, Leo Barnes (Grillo) who was the subject of the previous Purge is now in the Secret Service and he is constantly exasperated by the Senator’s willingness to go walking into a crowd of supporters to press the flesh. Of course, it’s a nightmare for those trying to protect her from nutjobs and assassins.

With the new law in place and little time to shore up the security at the Senator’s home in suburban DC, Leo sets up what is essentially a fortress and leaves the Senator with the only person he can trust – himself, and maybe her campaign manager (Phillips). Unfortunately, his security team has been compromised and when the Purge starts in earnest, her home is attacked. Leo barely gets her out alive. They are rescued by Joe (Williamson) who owns a deli he’s desperately trying to protect, and his employee Marcos (Soria) who has a vested interest in keeping the deli safe. After an attack by a couple of spoiled bitches who were caught shoplifting by Laney Rucker (Gabriel), a sort of local hero from the Purge a couple years previous (essentially taking over from Carmen Ejogo in a role rewritten for Gabriel when Ejogo turned down a repeat performance), the Senator and Leo make their way to a safe zone operated by the legendary anti-Purge activist Dante Bishop (Hodge), who has plans of his own. Can the Senator survive the night and end the Purge once and for all?

I have long since held that the Purge series is a metaphor for modern politics. The New Founding Fathers are essentially Donald Trump in John McCain’s body. This being lefty Hollywood, you can kind of guess the dim view of the NFFs that the filmmakers take. I am not so naive to think that the right are all monsters and the left are all heroically fighting for the rights of the little guy. As the recent WikiLeaks release has shown us, there is plenty of corruption in the DNC to go around as well.

Grillo, who is mostly known for being  a Hydra agent (Crossbones) in the Captain America movies, takes the unfamiliar heroic role and runs with it pretty well. He is not the matinee idol kind of guy; more of a rugged manly sort. Still, he has a future as an action hero if he chooses to go that route. Mitchell, best known for the TV show Lost, is luminous as Charlie Roan. Even the butt-ugly glasses she is forced to wear don’t take away from her natural glamour. Although some are comparing the character to Hillary Clinton, I think she is meant to be more of an Elizabeth Warren sort, although some may disagree. Secor is not really a Trump sort per se, but some will see certain figures of the Conservative Christian group in the good Minister (who is far from good). Mike Pence, anybody?

DeMonaco has helmed all three of the Purge movies and went from a home invasion story to a kind of overview tale to now one that attacks the mythology behind the story, which is a natural progression in my book and lets us see more into the circumstances in which the Purge would be allowed to continue for so long. In doing so, DeMonaco has helped create a cogent cinematic universe which is all the rage these days. Don’t be surprised if this does well that you don’t see a couple of spin-offs headed our way.

Politics aside, there is kind of a neo-Clockwork Orange vibe going on that is fascinating. It is also interesting that a film that is purportedly against the expression of violence is itself so violent. Some might find that a little hypocritical but I think that the irony is intentional; I’m big on giving Lefties the benefit of the doubt. What is less encouraging is that the movie seems a little more self-repetitive; I suspect the franchise could use a different perspective the next time around, assuming there is one. If there is, I wouldn’t mind but frankly, this was the most meh of the franchise so far.

REASONS TO GO: The movie really drills down into the Purge mythology more than any other film in the franchise.
REASONS TO STAY: Seems to be running a little bit out of steam.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, some of it graphic and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Edwin Hodge is the only actor to appear in all three Purge movies.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/25/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Warriors
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The Perfect Husband

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Bangkok Dangerous (2008)


Bangkok Dangerous

Nicolas Cage wonders if that's the Career Reaper following him.

(2008) Action Thriller (Lionsgate) Nicolas Cage, Shahkrit Yamnarm, Charlie Yeung, Panward Hemmanee, Nirattisai Kaljaruek, Dom Hetrakul. Directed by Danny and Oxide Pang

I’m not sure what it is about assassins that get weary of their job. They always seem to kill only people who deserve it, and when they try to do one last job, things always seem to go horribly wrong for them. It’s enough to make a killer check his 401K.

Joe (Cage) is such an assassin and you can tell he’s tired of his job because, well, he tells us he is. He certainly seems tired; he wanders through Bangkok trying to look cool and tough at the same time but he looks sleepy to me. Maybe it’s his hair – Cage is the king of really bad movie haircuts and this might be his worst yet.

He’s been sent to Bangkok to perform four murders, all of which are meant to look like accidents, which are Joe’s specialty. The crime boss that hires him (Kaljaruek) is provided with a list of requirements; in return, the targets and the information about them are delivered in stainless steel briefcases. The courier is Kong (Yamnaram), a street hustler Joe picks up to be his gofer…or his number one son. You make the call.

As Joe offs three bad guys, he develops a relationship with a blind pharmacist (Yeung) that blossoms into full-blown romance, which is a violation of one of Joe’s rules (it’s a rule that all cinematic assassins have to have a set of rules which in turn get violated during the course of the movie; it’s not the screenwriter’s fault, man – it’s a rule) as is his growing mentor relationship with Kong, who is proving to be no King.

When the fourth and final target pops up, Joe is shocked to find out that it is a politician, one who is particularly loved by the people. This pisses Joe off; he made it very clear that he doesn’t do political. Still, a job’s a job right? Of course not – this job’s a setup. Now Joe’s on the run and to make matters worse, his exit strategy doesn’t provide for people he cares about. Getting out of Bangkok alive has just become very problematic.

I usually like these kinds of movies and I usually like Nicolas Cage in movies, although that has become much harder to do lately. Some of his more recent movies have become a good deal more style than substance, and he has gone from being one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars to being one in danger of becoming a B-movie headliner whose movies as often as not head direct to home video.

The Pang Brothers based this on their own 1999 action movie of the same title. It’s kind of an odd choice for a remake – it wasn’t really one of their better films, and it doesn’t really get much value added to it by being “Hollywood-ized.” To make matters worse, it is very badly underlit and the colors have a washed out tone to them, like someone left the aperture far too open on a home movie.

However, the Pang Brothers are action specialists and some of the sequences (particularly the boat chase and Joe’s escape from an ambush while his paramour walks ahead, completely unaware of the carnage going on behind her) are masterful. That said, the Thai locations used here don’t really give you a sense of the lively nature of Bangkok but nonetheless give you a good idea of the beauty of the city and its environs. If they hadn’t tried to be so stylish, this could have gotten more points for being a good looking film.

As I mentioned earlier, Cage more or less sleepwalks through this, trying an Eastwood-like approach of growling in a low voice while rarely displaying much emotion or feeling. Unfortunately, that works better with a gravelly voice than it does with Cage’s and for the most part, his part is uninspired. However the relationship he has with Kong is one of the movie’s highlights; young Yamnaram does a solid job as Joe’s flunky.

The romantic subplot serves as a distraction and really never goes anywhere anyway. Yeung is very attractive but there’s no real fire or passion in her scenes with Joe; they’re too chaste to really convince me that there’s any sort of heat between them. More convincing is the romance between Kong and a stripper that he becomes fond of. Strangely enough, she becomes the damsel in peril (every movie needs one) rather than Joe’s friend. In retrospect that’s probably a wise decision.

Given the Bangkok location, this could have been a much more exciting, enjoyable film than it was and that’s really a shame. Unfortunately I never really got a reason for this film to be made other than for a quick payday. I never got a sense anyone involved really loved the story nor believed in it. Perhaps that’s why I gave this such a tepid review; that’s more or less how I felt the filmmakers gave to their audience.

WHY RENT THIS: The action sequences are exciting. The relationship between Joe and Kong is believable and dynamic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The “retiring assassin doing his last job” thing has been done to death. The romantic relationship with the blind pharmacist never really goes anywhere nor is it very convincing.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of violence and a little bit of sexuality. There is also a fair amount of foul language as well. Definitely for older teens and above.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filming in Bangkok during the September 19, 2006 coup d’état. The armory department claims they fired the only shots of the coup. Filming was only interrupted for six hours.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on the growth of Asian cinema which is a bit shallow but informative nonetheless.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $42.5M on a $45M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Next Three Days