Phil Villarreal's novel, Zeta Male, is available at Amazon.
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Now three solid movies strong, "The Purge" has evolved into a binge-worthy franchise.
What started as tight, focused chamber drama about a family fending off an attack from unruly outsiders has expanded into an all-out action thriller that dishes out as much biting political commentary as it does brutal kills. In a filmscape filled with repetitive sequels, it's refreshing to see a franchise willing to branch out and become something different with each new entry.
"Election Year" doubles as a video game escort mission-style film about a trained killer protecting an idealistic politician. Frank Grillo plays a Secret Service agent tasked with keeping Senator and presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) alive during the one night of the year that the government dispenses with all laws and lets anyone commit any crime they please.
The Mitchell character leads a faction of society that wants to get rid of the Purge, which has become a way for the government to lighten its welfare burden by letting poor people slaughter one another. She is out to uncover a "Simpsons" Stonecutter-style conspiracy involving powerbrokers who seek to keep the Purge alive to support the 1 percent-favoring status quo.
That's a political platform that draws assassination attempts, not only from street gangs who rely on the Purge to take down rivals, but well-paid, trained killers backed by the Senator's rivals.
Working with a cast of able C-listers, director James DeMonaco -- who also helmed the two other "Purge" films -- spins his dizzying tale with a forceful, steady hand. There are no wasted motions or frivolous beats here. This is hardscrabble storytelling with a convincing emotional core and stinging twists. You won't find many films more violent than this, and DeMonaco's most impressive trick is managing to make sure the brutality manages to keep its sting rather than devolving into repetitive numbness.
The themes run a little heavy, but ring true in a year that mob politics and twisted populism have caused chaos on the national scene, and frequent mass shootings have foisted the gun control debate to the front lines. It's hard to imagine society devolving to a "Hunger Games" or "Purge" style depravity, but you can definitely see it from where we're at. That realization is more chilling than any of the movie's dozens of stabbings and shootings.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.