In the right hands, there could be a great movie based on the concept of the "Purge." Unfortunately, the films have never been in the right hands.

In the right hands, there could be a great movie based on the concept of the "Purge." Unfortunately, the films have never been in the right hands.

I mean, it's a concept that would make for a great dystopian novel or a "Twilight Zone" episode. For a 12-hour period once a year, all laws are suspended. Everything goes - including (and especially) murder.

The "new founding fathers" of this America tout that this lets the nation get out its worst urges, its anger and its hatred in a controlled environment (or rather a wildly uncontrolled environment at a set time).

What should be a commentary on the underlying violent nature of our society has instead, for three movies now, been more a celebration of it. Even though the moralizing is as subtle as a shotgun blast to the face, it's undercut by onscreen depictions of, say, a shotgun blast to the face.

With its third installment, "The Purge: Election Year," the series goes even deeper into political commentary. While the ruling class credits the Purge with reduced crime and poverty rates, Sen. Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) sees it as disproportionately affecting the poor population. She's running an upstart presidential campaign on a pledge to end the Purge.

A somehow surprise assassination attempt on the senator's life leads her and her security chief (Frank Grillo) to cross paths with a ragtag group trying to survive the night, notably a deli owner who shares the senator's disdain for the Purge (Mykelti Williamson).

Writer-director James DeMonaco returns for the third installment, and what started as a home-invasion thriller has now gone full action movie. "Election Year" plays almost like a war movie. For the most part, the thing that made the concept interesting - "normal" people turning murderous just because they can - is relegated to the background.

There is some notable and timely commentary on class. One leader sinisterly declares of the Purge opposition: "They want everyone to have. Some cannot have. Not enough to go around." (Trump speechwriters feel free to borrow that one.)

But the clichés weigh things down as it becomes a rescue mission movie in the final act. The inclusion of more non-white heroes is welcome, but ultimately the trilogy ends up one that should have been better.