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The first Purge (2013) had an intriguing (albeit patently ridiculous) premise: what if all crime were legal for one annual 12-hour period?  As that movie and its sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, would have it, this tradition has reduced all crime for the rest of the year and unemployment to negligible levels.  It is never clear how those results are effected, but that is besides the point.  The premise is just an excuse to create a horrific landscape of lawlessness.  The first Purge squandered that opportunity by limiting itself to a typical home-invasion flick.  This sequel, which is essentially a do-over, has the right idea by setting its protagonists loose on the streets of Los Angeles the night of the Purge, but its execution is lacking.

The thing is, a B-movie that runs about an hour and a half is always going to have to ultimately limit its focus, even when its premise suggests a context with a much wider scope.  Anarchy, like its predecessor, offers an intriguing milieu, with a strange cult-like adoration of the “New Founding Fathers of America” regime and the inevitable class warfare.  But the actual characters that the narrative follows do not offer much in the way of exploration of these themes, and the casting does little to help.  Frank Grillo provides decent screen presence as a police sergeant apparently seeking vengeance for the events of a previous Purge.  Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul, as a persecuted mother-daughter duo, are too thinly sketched to be memorable for the right reasons and too adequate to be memorable for the wrong reasons.  Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez struggle to elevate the typical horror roles of a couple who make dumb decisions and give us little reason to sympathize with them.

Anarchy only comes alive when the electric Michael K. Williams appears intermittently as the leader of an anti-Purge resistance group.  His fight-the-real-enemy ethos kicks the proceedings into the gear of a thematic focus that the rest of the film sorely lacks. C+

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