Sunday, August 3, 2014


Eighteenth century Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift would have enjoyed writer & director James DeManaco’s violent, sanguine, urban crime thriller “The Purge: Anarchy” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) even more than its predecessor the home invasion epic “The Purge.”  The premise that our government has allocated one day annually for citizens to assuage their violent urges by committing criminal acts of any kind without fear of punishment is audacious.  Moreover, since America has been purging for 6 years, the economy has improved significant and crime has been cut to the bone.  “The Purge: Anarchy” is comparable to Swift’s immortal essay “A Modest Proposal.”  Written in 1729, “A Modest Proposal” urged destitute Irishmen to sell their children as fodder to feed the insatiable appetites of the wealthy.  In “The Purge: Anarchy,” a terminally-ill senior citizen, sells himself for $100-thousand to an affluent family so they can purge in the confines of their palatial mansion without risking their lives on the streets. Mind you, DeMonaco doesn’t advocate the idea of an annual government-sanctioned crime holiday any more than Swift expected his impoverished counterparts to cannibalize their children.  Hollywood doesn’t often attempt to be as satirical as the “Purge” movies.  Lately, “The Hunger Games” movies with their annual tournament of death is the closest that Tinsel town has come to incisive political satire for mainstream audiences.  Unlike “The Hunger Games,” the “Purge” movies occur about a decade in the future.  Nevertheless, everything looks and sounds like contemporary America as we know it.  The New Founding Fathers, who rule America, appear to be ultra-conservatives, and they place a high premium on religion, but the God that they worship bears little resemblance to the popular, mainstream religious denominations. 
“The Purge: Anarchy” opens two hours and 26 minutes before the annual purge scheduled each March.  Waitress Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo of “Absolute Beginners”) and another waitress Tanya (Justina Machado of “Torque”) are waiting on their boss to let them go home for the evening.  Things tonight are drastically different because it is purge night.  Essentially, you can do anything criminal during this twelve-hour period, but the authorities cannot prosecute you.  Eva tries to persuade her boss to raise her salary since she is finding it difficult to pay for her father’s pricey medicine.  Papa Rico (John Beasley of “The General’s Daughter”) hates this medicine and refuses to take it.  Rico’s granddaughter, Cali (Zoë Soul of “Prisoners”), convinces him to take it.  Rico warns Eva and Cali not to awake him from his slumber; all he wants to do is sleep through this terrifying holiday.  Meanwhile, Eva informs Cali that her boss balked at her pay raise request.  Later, these two women are shocked when they discover Papa Rico has sold himself to the highest bidder to be slaughtered.  He has arranged matters so Eva and Cali will receive a small monetary fortune for his sacrificial act.  Eva and Cali are sitting safely in their apartment when intruders in black combat gear with automatic weapons burst in and abduct them at gun point. 
In another part of the city, an anonymous individual known only as Sergeant (Frank Grillo of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) is arming himself to the teeth for an evening of purging.  He knows how to wield a variety of lethal firearms.  Sergeant is one tough looking dude, and he drives an evil black sedan with a trunk crammed with an arsenal of firearms.  Sergeant is set to purge until he spots the thugs-in-black dragging Eva and Cali against their will from their apartment building.  A menacing looking man in a baseball cap and a long butcher’s apron, Big Daddy (Jack Conley of “Payback”), who is standing in an 18-wheeler, wants the women.  Against his better judgment, Sergeant intervenes.  He riddles the thugs manhandling Eva and Cali, and one of his bullets creases Big Daddy’s left cheek and knocks the villain off his feet.  Sergeant escorts Eva and Cali back to his car, but he finds a surprise awaiting them.  Two more innocent bystanders whose car broke down on them have taken refuge in his back seat, and he cannot force them to get out.  Sergeant understands the old saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  Big Daddy recovers in time to open fire with his machine gun that spews armor-piercing rounds.  Our heroes escape his wrath, but Sergeant’s car conks out on him because Big Daddy’s bullets have blown out the engine.  Sergeant and his quartet of refugees set out on foot through the city with Eva assuring him that he can get another car from her waitress friend Tonya at her apartment building.  More surprises ensue for Sergeant and his new friends.
Watching either “The Purge” or “The Purge: Anarchy,” you might be tempted to reprimand DeManaco for his implied advocacy of firearms and murder.  In fact, however, DeManaco deplores the overt use of gunplay.  What makes “The Purge: Anarchy” even more relevant is the class warfare theme that DeManaco has developed with even greater intensity than he did in “The Purge.”  DeManaco hammers home the theme of haves versus have-nots emphatically throughout this superior, slam-bang sequel.  Meantime, the only link between the sequel and the original is an African-American supporting character that you might have missed, even if you’ve seen the original.  He was referred to simply as the Bloody Stranger in “The Purge.”  In “The Purge: Anarchy,” he is designated strictly as the Stranger.  If you have not seen “The Purge,” you won’t appreciate the irony in actor Edwin Hodge’s encore performance.  Whereas “The Purge” occurred in a gated, elite neighborhood, “The Purge: Anarchy” expands the playing field to the city at large.  For example, obese woman roams a bridge with a bull horn and a machine gun urging citizens to test her marksmanship.  Busses set ablaze cruise through the night. DeManaco makes maximum use of his sinewy, 103 minutes to forge a palatable atmosphere of paranoia.


You'll love "Lucy."  French filmmaker Luc Besson, who helmed "Le Femme Nikita," "Angel-A," and "Colombiana," takes the feminist-oriented action thriller genre to the next level.  This outlandish but entertaining hokum chronicles the mutation of a defenseless damsel-in-distress into an invincible dame with heretofore unimagined mental powers.  Our provocative protagonist comes to rely more on her brains than her biology.  Comparably, "Lucy" reminded me a little of the 2004 foreign movie "Maria Full of Grace."  Columbian drug traffickers planted cocaine in the stomach of a teenage girl in "Maria Full of Grace" and used her to smuggle their smack into the United States. Happily, this savvy babe turned the tables on her captors!  Similarly, our heroine in "Lucy" finds a pouch of exotic synthetic drugs sew into her tummy and given a plane ticket for America.  The last thing that her savage, cold-blooded captors are prepared for is her improbable reprisal.  Lucy turns the tables on them in ways that not even she could have thought before she encountered these merciless hooligans.  Indeed, actress Scarlett Johansson would be the whole show if Morgan Freeman weren't lecturing in cutaway shots as a prestigious physician, Professor Samuel Norman, whose ranks as the foremost expert on gray matter.  When Professor Norman isn't delivering lectures to enthralled audiences about the percentage of use that humans derive from their noodles, Besson treats us to illuminating Animal Planet excerpts of jungle animals that punctuate the running battle Lucy carries on with the heavily-armed Asian drug smugglers.  Korean actor Choi Min-shik, who starred in director Chan-wook Park's first version of the revenge thriller "Oldboy" (2003), makes a memorable villain named Mr. Jang.  You will love to hate Mr. Jang.  Furthermore, Mr. Jang's immaculately tailored henchmen are as homicidal as he is until he meets our feminist heroine after she experiences a massive change in her attitude.  Interestingly enough, before she made "Lucy," Scarlett Johansson appeared in "Under the Skin," a 2013 sci-fi thriller about an alien who masquerades as a human to prey on lonely men in Scotland.  For the record, Besson had cast Angelina Jolie as Lucy, but Jolie had to drop out, so Johansson stepped into the role.

The first time we see Lucy (Scarlett Johansson of "The Avengers"), she is arguing with her scummy boyfriend, Richard (Pilou Asbæk of "The Whistleblower"), clad in a straw cowboy-hat and red sunglasses in front of a fashionable, high-rise motel in Taiwan. Richard is struggling to convince Lucy to deliver a sleek briefcase to a motel guest named Mr. Jang.  Richard insists that he cannot personally hand the briefcase over to Mr. Jang.  He says that he has seen the man too many times.  Lucy refuses to deliver the briefcase.  She asks Richard about the contents of the briefcase.  As it turns out, Richard doesn't have a clue about what is in the briefcase.  Their entire argument sounds like something that Quentin Tarantino's characters argued about in "Pulp Fiction."  Everything in the seminal crime thriller "Pulp Fiction" turned on the mysterious contents of a cryptic briefcase.  Just as Lucy is about to walk away from Richard, this reprobate of a boyfriend handcuffs the brief case to her wrist so she cannot get it off. Eventually, Lucy relents and enters the motel while Richard watches her with great anticipation.  Suffice to say, things go downhill like an avalanche for both Richard and our heroine.  The action sequences in "Lucy" are breathtaking, especially the predictable but exciting car chase through Paris with Lucy at the wheel of a police car.  Besson charts the action according to the percentage of brain power that our heroine is able to harness until fadeout when she concludes her incredible metamorphosis.  During this haywire ride, Parisian detective Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked of “Syriana”) sees things that he never thought possible.

Initially, "Lucy" unfolds as a standard-issue, dark-themed, revenge thriller in the vein of something notorious horror maestro Eli Roth of "Hostel" fame would perpetrate.  About half-way through its lean, mean 90 minutes, this nimble Universal Pictures release changes our protagonist from a Shanghaied schoolgirl into a pistol-packing mother who doesn't need a guy to save her bacon.  She becomes the equivalent of Liam Neeson in the "Taken" thrillers and then she even surpasses him!  She doesn't even have to rely on guns.  Earlier, the fiendish villains rounded up not only poor Lucy but also three other guys and sewed a kilo pouch of strange blue crystals called CPH4 into their intestines. Basically, CPH4 amounts to the equivalent of stuff that pregnant moms produce to cultivate their fetuses.  Somebody utters ominously enough about the substance: ""For a baby, it packs the power of an atomic bomb."" Our ingenious heroine manages to escape the clutches of the bad guys, and she alerts the authorities about herself as well as the other mules.  Unfortunately, the police are in no way prepared for the commitment that the criminals have for their product.  They will kill anybody who comes between them and their junk.  As the bullets fly, the bodies whether innocent bystanders or gunmen stack up in piles.  These villains are armed with more than just fully automatic weapons. Before the dust settles, however, Besson's crime thriller transforms into a mind-boggling science fiction actioneer reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."  Literally, the heroine becomes the equivalent of the monolith in the Kubrick film.  Indeed, the ending is a mind blower in itself, but you may feel cheated by this ending.  In another sense, the ending of “Lucy” is reminiscent too of the wrap up to “Star Trek: the Motion Picture,” where a female android mated with a human to take mankind farther into the future than humanity had ever gone!  Nevertheless, nothing that you have seen this summer will prepare you for “Lucy” and its supercharged little saga.