The third "Purge" movie, which may be the harshest political commentary this year in any medium, is weirdly pretty good and carries the subtitle "Election Year." The America we see in writer-director James DeMonaco's sequel might've been dreamed up over a conference call among Donald Trump (a clear model for the movie's prime minister), the National Rifle Association (referenced by name, though not in a way the NRA would prefer, despite the film's high levels of assault weapon carnage) and the most reactionary of the Fox News pundits and contributors.
All that's there if you want it. If you don't want it, "Purge 3" works well enough as a simple, scuzzy, effective multitrack survival narrative, with mostly new characters inhabiting the premise DeMonaco established with his first "Purge" movie. Not long from now, the ruling political party, the New Founding Fathers of America ("Make America great!" is their slogan), has miraculously cut the nation's crime rate by devoting one night a year, Purge Night, to rampant murder, unpunishable by law, fun for all, 12 hours of death and no consequences.
The first "Purge" was a tightly confined home-invasion thriller, leading to "Purge 2," more of a mean-streets, open-air affair. "Purge 3" combines elements of both. Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes, now security chief for Sen. Charlene "Charlie" Roan. She's played by Elizabeth Mitchell, sporting I'm-super-smart black specs and a collection of characteristics borrowed from Megyn Kelly and Hillary Clinton.
Roan's running for president against the NFFA on a liberal anti-Purge platform, which makes her an assassination target of her enemies. Holed up in her townhouse on Purge Night, she and Leo learn there's a turncoat in the staffing ranks. A few corpses later they're running for their lives on the streets of Washington, D.C., portrayed, in the movie, by Providence, R.I.
That's one level of play. Another concerns deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his immigrant employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), do-gooder Laney (Betty Gabriel) and their attempts to save their store from marauding crazies. This ad hoc group takes in Charlie and Leo early on, and they take on the enemy from there. There's a gang of neo-Nazi "white pride" thugs to deal with, while across town, an underground revolutionary (Edwin Hodge) puts his own Purge Night plans into action.
The plot strands intertwine cleverly. DeMonaco remains a better writer than director. While some of the stray images of bloody insanity (bodies strapped to a careening car's hood, like deer) stick in the craw, often his scenes lack internal dynamism. (The movie's also very light on extras; Purge Night feels like a Monday.) At its best, though, "Purge 3" recalls the vibe of early John Carpenter, "Assault on Precinct 13" or "Escape from New York," for example. The women, for once, do more than just sit around and get tied up and threatened, though of course that happens, too. It's ridiculously easy to predict who lives and dies in "Purge 3," yet the predictability doesn't kill your interest in the outcome.
It's nice to see an action movie take more than a passing interest in where our country is at the moment, and then exaggerating that moment into the realm of shrewd exploitation. To wit: Any film combining an indictment of false religiosity with an indictment of violence-solves-violence political pandering in a single line of dialogue -- "These weapons have been cleansed with holy water!" -- is OK by me. And you know? I can name a long list of 2016 films "The Purge: Election Night" is better than, from "Independence Day: Resurgence" to "London Has Fallen" to that hallmark of cheap emotional terrorism, "Me Before You."
MPAA rating: R (for disturbing bloody violence and strong language).
Running time: 1:45