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“Reprisal” Somehow Manages to Waste Both Bruce Willis and Frank Grillo

Seeing Bruce Willis in the movies these days is damn embarrassing. The action icon appears to just wander from one into the next — sometimes as a favor to someone working on the movie — taking the phrase phoning it in to astonishing heights.

In Reprisal, he’s an ex-cop (of course!) and the next-door neighbor of a bank manager (Frank Grillo) whose bank was recently robbed. Since that heist left one co-worker dead, our tormented protagonist is obsessed with stopping the criminal from robbing/killing again. So he gets together with his next-door pal to figure out this cat’s next move.

You can tell that the filmmakers only had Willis for a limited number of days during filming. Despite sharing top billing with Grillo, the man only shows up in a few scenes — mostly all set in the same interior location — giving the minimum number of fucks. And when Willis does have to go outside, he awkwardly gets spliced in along with shots of the bald-headed double who subbed for him when he wasn’t there. (See what I mean when I say this is embarrassing?)

It’s bad enough this film is another flimsy, unsurprising, straight-to-streaming actioner/highlight reel for Grillo, who seems to want people to know he’s ready to headline a blockbuster tentpole flick. But it’s downright sad watching Willis go all half-assed in another movie. I guess we’re gonna have to wait for Glass to come out next year to see if Willis can do a movie in whole-assed form again.

Reprisal
Lionsgate Premiere
Opens August 31, Cinema Village
Available on demand

 

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The Purge: Anarchy Sets Up Frank Grillo to Finally Be the Leading Man

Sirens blare and an eerie voice announces that it’s best to remain indoors if you don’t plan to participate. While others make safety arrangements, and some sharpen their knives, one man loads his black, steel-armored car with plenty of guns and begins cruising. Fires erupt along the street, and gunshots and piercing screams fill the air.

In the black car is a man with a mission, and judging by his stern expression, nothing will get in his way. Cue a flicker in his rearview mirror: the beautiful woman and her young daughter held at gunpoint on the street behind him.

After cursing himself for what he’s about to do, the man gets out of the car, aims his gun, and pow. One shooter down, then another, then some fancy punches and kicks and some more pow-pow, and he has just saved two innocent lives.

The night of the purge was designed for society to release its harbored angst during a 12-hour period, when all crime is legal — go out there and kill some people! Saving people? That’s not right.

With its second installment and a new leader in charge of a merry pack of victims, The Purge: Anarchy sets up Frank Grillo to be the leading man he always knew he could be.

Unlike his most recent on-screen persona, Brock Rumlow (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), whom Grillo describes as “misunderstood,” the nameless Sergeant is more of a “good guy; a law-abiding citizen who was wronged.”

Sitting inside a large, air-conditioned RV away from the Miami heat, Grillo laces his fingers together and furrows his brow intently as he explains the motivations behind his character. Once a normal, everyday kind of guy, Sergeant’s life is one day tragically changed, “so he uses the purge as a mechanism to fill what he thinks is justice. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, and I think he proves that by stopping the car at the very beginning [of the film].

“He goes on to create these relationships while he’s running away trying to get these people to safety that he ends up specifically creating a meaningful relationship with the young girl in the group,” Grillo says. “She touches his heart and opens him up.”

That depth and roundness in a character are something one rarely sees in these sort of quickly produced, niche thriller films, and that is exactly what intrigued Grillo about the role. While there might be some visual indications in the film that Sergeant isn’t the nicest of people — such as his black wardrobe and suspicious talent with weapons — his trustworthiness is never questioned.

Sergeant is an unlikely hero, and after years of playing the supporting role, Grillo graciously demands to be taken seriously as the protagonist in The Purge: Anarchy.

He smiles with the modesty of a rising leading man and says, “It was great, you know, to be the guy.”

Yet, the promise of a prominent spot in the movie was not why Grillo initially agreed to the project. It was the script. As he explains it, part of his job as an actor is to serve the script. After reading the story for The Purge: Anarchy and being a fan of the first film, Grillo sat with director James DeMonaco and chatted about their corresponding visions.

“If I’m looking at it for what the best character is, then that’s not really looking at the bigger picture,” Grillo says, and the bigger picture here is a film that has the potential to frighten people, entertain people, but most importantly, make people think.

Grillo divides the main message of the film in two. For one, “we should all be very conscious of how we treat each other…theoretically, we should be getting along better and be further along as human beings and not wanting to kill each other.” And secondly (though it’s more of an add-on), “we all need to question our own motives about how we behave in times of crisis.”

Despite the plausible argument that the film is really led by an ensemble cast, Grillo’s Sergeant is clearly the unspoken front-runner. He becomes conscious of how he treats those around him, and he not only questions his motives but also reevaluates them.

“That’s what I love about the movie: It’s not just a scary movie, [but] it makes you think and wakes you up a bit,” he says.

Much like the Paranormal Activity franchise or the Saw series, where each film can stand alone and entertain audiences just the same, The Purge: Anarchy tells a unique story while throwing in some winks and nods to the original. Whereas Paranormal Activity boasts five (going on six films), and Saw has seven installments, The Purge has some catching up to do.

Does that mean audiences will get to purge roughly every 365 days? Maybe.

“James DeMonaco, Jason Blum, and I have all started to talk about it, and if the script is right and if the story holds up to this story, which I really love, then I’ll absolutely come back.”

Sergeant is the kind of guy who can take care of himself, and reluctantly also take care of others, Grillo says, adding how “he’s the type of guy who can ride the revolution.” He stops, eyes widening like a kid on Christmas morning, and exclaims, “Maybe that’s the name of it, maybe we’ll call it The Purge: Revolution! We just came up with the name of Purge 3!”

Perhaps The Purge: Uprising would be more fitting.

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The Purge: Anarchy Is a Fun House-Mirror Look at American Class War

If the Saw series taught us anything, it’s that every quasi-inventive genre movie is fated to become a yearly franchise with increasingly diminishing returns. The Purge practically cried out for this treatment from its premise alone: James DeMonaco’s film had a big idea — a near-future in which “any and all crime, including murder” is made legal one night a year — but limited its focus to an upscale family’s failure to insulate itself from the government-sanctioned carnage. Now The Purge: Anarchy gets down in the muck of downtown Los Angeles with the hoi polloi reveling in the free-for-all and the conscientious objectors stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. The movie bucks the trend — it’s better than the first.

The merry ensemble includes a mother-daughter duo and a youngish couple with car trouble. All four are saved from grisly ends by Sergeant (Frank Grillo), who’s armed to the teeth and on an unspecified mission of vengeance on this most celebrated, feared, and reviled of nights. Everyone in this quintet of survivors is reluctant when he becomes the de facto guide — Sergeant doesn’t want to be slowed down, and they don’t know what he’s doing with so many weapons. With his low-key machismo and tactical expertise, Grillo’s performance will make you wonder why he didn’t start headlining movies like this before turning 50; his is the soft-spoken kind of charisma that helped make half of the Expendables into stars back in the ’80s and ’90s.

“Stay safe” is everybody’s mantra in the last few hours before the Purge itself begins, and you understand why they say it with such dread, especially as a war horn–like alarm announces the 12-hour battle royal. It signals a point of no return with menacing authority. The frenzied way people make last-minute trips to the grocery store and scramble home as the countdown nears its end makes a case for setting the inevitable third installment on any of the 364 other non-Purge days — imagine how this night affects everything from vacation schedules and real estate to crimes of passion. There’s a chance for compelling world building here, and writer-director DeMonaco has thus far opted out of exploring it.

Fictional dystopias are at their most alluring to both real-world audiences and in-world residents when they carry a utopian sheen, and the great façade of the Purge society is the government- and media-propagated position that the annual bloodletting serves the greater good. DeMonaco’s script insists that unemployment and crime are essentially nonexistent, apparently thanks to this violent bacchanal, but the movies make no bones about portraying the well-heeled as the only true beneficiaries of this Shirley Jackson–esque ritual. (They’re also its most ignominious participants.)

The country-club set pays the families of terminally-ill “martyrs” to let them murder these ailing loved ones, while street gangs deliver prey for private hunting parties. Watching Sergeant and his four charges fight back against their tuxedo-clad captors is red meat for the 99%, as well as fun house–mirror exaggeration of how our different financial strata shape and determine our base instincts.

In their nighttime roving and casual violence, the film’s best scenes resemble nothing so much as the undervalued Escape from L.A. The City of Angels was an anything-goes island prison in John Carpenter’s sequel to Escape from New York, and DeMonaco’s vision is just as lawless (not to mention thematically blunt). A religious zealot with a megaphone picks off passersby with a rifle in the business district, while a paramilitary group targets poor apartment complexes across town. It’s the city as no-man’s-land, and Anarchy makes good on one character’s nervous (and ultimately quite funny) declaration that “Everyone goes downtown to purge.”