Last year, James DeMonaco's "The Purge" presented an intriguing idea: What if all crime, even murder, were legal for one night each year? "The Purge" was a simple home-invasion movie, starring Ethan Hawke as a suburban family man, but it came with a satirical, dystopian undercurrent.
DeMonaco's sequel, "The Purge: Anarchy," turns that undercurrent into a tsunami of populist rage, class warfare and racial tension. Maybe it's the dispiriting economy, a national sense of upward immobility or that 700-page Thomas Piketty book proving that only the rich will get richer, but "The Purge: Anarchy" feels like one seriously ticked-off flick. It's better-made than the first -- DeMonaco's writing and directing are much stronger -- and it also has the courage of its convictions.
The year is 2023, and our new hero is Leo (Frank Grillo, of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), an icy character looking for vengeance on Purge night. Like so many tough loners, however, Leo has a heart, and soon he's rescued four helpless birds: Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her teenage daughter, Cali (Zoë Soul), plus the bickering spouses Shane and Liz, played by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez. If they can make it to a friend's house across Los Angeles (a tall order on any night), they just might survive.
Loosely structured as a series of increasingly dire encounters with humans at their worst, "Anarchy" really does border on anarchy. It's the first movie in years (aside from the period-piece "Django Unchained") to show poor blacks rising up against rich whites in a crimson-splattered fantasy of revolt. Its wealthy villains -- senators and frost-haired matrons straight from the society pages -- are vicious, almost Swiftian grotesqueries. The movie also has a droll sense of humor: Spurned lovers, government thugs and beer-chugging good ol' boys all have their reasons to purge.
"The Purge: Anarchy" is a little overstuffed, and its closing moments of melodrama feel unwelcome, like sugar dumped into strong whiskey. But "The Purge: Anarchy" packs a visceral punch. It's an apocalypse movie in which civilization is still terrifyingly alive.
PLOT In a future America where all crime is legal, one night each year a group of people bands together to survive.
RATING R (strong disturbing violence, and language)
CAST Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford
BOTTOM LINE This B-picture may be the sharpest commentary yet on the class rage simmering in America. Tough, angry and funny.