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The Purge: Anarchy

Can I ask for 30 seconds of your time? OK. Use it to consider a US of the near future in which, for one 12-hour period every year, all crimes were allowed. How would that affect life here?

If you did give that idea 30 seconds, you almost certainly came up with something more interesting than what the makers of The Purge: Anarchy do with the same premise over 105 minutes.

It’s less a sequel to last year’s The Purge than another story told in the same imaginary universe, a US that has been taken over by a movement calling itself “The New Founding Fathers.” During their decade in power, they claim to have substantially reduced crime and unemployment and increased wages by the annual “Purge Night.” From dusk until dawn, you can do anything you want (short of setting off bombs or killing government officials) with no worry of punishment.

It’s an attention-grabbing idea (tossed out in a few seconds of background) that might be more manageable if it were limited in scope—say, to the residents of a microcosmic small town. As is, it raises all kinds of questions that it never attempts to answer. (Here’s one: if you file your taxes that night and claim each of your 25 goldfish as dependents, does that preclude an IRS audit?)

Instead, we spend the night with a handful of innocent ordinary people who find themselves out on the streets when they should be safely barricaded behind locked doors. They are shepherded by a lone wolf (Frank Grillo, the closest thing to a star in a no-name cast) who is out for a reason: he wants to use the night to redress a wrong that has ruined his life.

If you think about this for much more than 30 seconds you’ll conclude that it’s ridiculous. Even if you accept that a result of a night like this would be that many of the bad apples out for nasty kicks would simply kill each other off, it’s hard to see how this could lead to the named other benefits to society. And the notion that it allows rich psychos to blow off steam is the most ludicrously handled part of the movie.

Directed by James DeMonaco, whose previous career as a writer included the Samuel L. Jackson—Kevin Spacey thriller The Negotiator (1998) and the 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13, The Purge is reasonably well crafted by the standards of this kind of shoot-‘em-up cinema, if you can shut off your brain and ride along with it. But the premise is too clever for its own good: you can’t stop asking questions. The blandly unsurprisingly finale leaves so much unresolved that a sequel or two is inevitable. Let’s hope that those dig a little deeper into an idea that could have been a Hunger Games for adults with a little extra push.

Opens Friday at Flix, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria, Sunset Drive-In, Transit Drive-In

Watch the trailer for The Purge: Anarchy

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