A time to purge

Newest installment in the “Purge” series misses the mark for the second time.

Joe Cristo

To film the latest installment of the “Purge” series, Universal Pictures spent $10 million, and unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe the film is worth the cost. 

With $10 million, you could buy a vacation home in Orange County, or 100 seconds of Super Bowl ad time. You could probably cure some of the awful ailments. But making a new Purge? Really?

The newest film in the series, “The Purge: Election Year,” takes place in the year 2033. The plot is pretty simple: U.S senator Charlene Roan — played by Elizabeth Mitchell — is running for president and campaigning to end the Purge once and for all. But first, she has to endure one final Purge. Sergeant Leo Barnes — performed by Frank Grillo — returns as Roan’s hunky bodyguard, keeping her safe from civilians and conspiring governmental officials. 

Most of the movies in the “Purge” series deal with some sort of cheesy, allegorical moral quandary. In this case, writer and director James DeMonaco hyperbolized the current election cycle, focusing on the way government can affect the lives of the disenfranchised. Yet, it’s audacious for the third film to recycle the same premise in a poorly formed parody frame.

“The Purge: Election Year,” by all accounts, is an OK movie — but just OK. Something about the premise is always unnerving, and the acting isn’t as bad as you’d expect. Grillo is a bright spot in these movies, and Dwayne —Edwin Hodge, the only actor in all three films — is expectedly comfortable with the plot’s well-trodden ground. In this edition, Mitchell breaks that particular mold pretty well: She straight-up sucks.

Forget the problematic casting of Mitchell as a white savior sent to unburden the indigent. The fact is that even the “good” acting isn’t all that great. Mitchell oscillates between unbelievably campy and overly serious, never settling into either. Melodrama fills every moment she is on screen. The script is really just a rewrite of the same cool idea — “What if, like, murder was legal?”

At this point, the movie starts to feel like a cash-grab. The budget was lean for “Election Year” but tripled in size from the first film. Like “Saw” or “The Fast and the Furious,” “The Purge” is now, certifiably, a lazy movie franchise.

The plot is generic: A well-thought-out plan to protect oneself during the Purge ends up foiled by a group of marauding, masked murderers. The good guys run around the city trying to survive. The ending is less happy than you might expect, but many things end up working out, as they do in most summer date movies.

I have to be honest when I say that I like the “Purge” series better than most bland, boring horror films. Since it takes place in the future and the premise sounds like it’s lifted from a Ray Bradbury short story, the movie embodies a sense of dystopian fervor pretty well. I wouldn’t say it’s clever or that the average person couldn’t think of it, but I have a small place in my heart for movies that are unabashedly OK.

My theory: The idea is so universal and so contrived that it scratches some primitive, caveman itch. It’s like we’re all programmed to think about what it would be like to live in a world without cops.

That’s just a theory, though.