The dish is served.
Writer/director Gary Ross and a great cast have brought Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games to life and set the table for what will no doubt be a series of sequels.
Collins’ story is complicated. Thirteen poverty-stricken districts surround an opulent capital. At one time, the districts rebelled against the capital, and a tribute was demanded after their defeat. A male and a female from each district age 12 to 18 are randomly selected to battle to the death in the Hunger Games.
Detail apparently isn’t Ross’ forte. We get this information — and little more for a set-up — in a 10-second, printed opening statement. He must assume those that haven’t read the book will figure the rest out.
You do. And you don’t.
For those that won’t figure it out, you don’t learn the country Parem used to be North America. A cataclysm of some sort happened eons ago that set up the controlling city and the 13 districts. Each district provides an important need to the capitol. In the rebellion, one of the districts was completely annihilated. Not that it matters. Once the movie gets going, it’s all about the games and the mind games revolving around the games.
A horrid host anchors the TV broadcast that hypes the Hunger Games and the series of events that lead up to the much-anticipated bloodbath. A good comparison: the Hunger Games are that civilization’s overly commercialized version of the Super Bowl.
Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss. She substitutes for her 12-year old sister when the little girl is chosen. That gives Katniss near-legend status when she arrives at the capitol to prepare for the games. Katniss‘ fame grows when, the night before the contest begins, her district’s male counterpart, Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta, announces he’s in love with her.
Sadly, they have no chemistry as characters or as actors. The only chemistry found in the film is between Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and and her old-pro co-star Woody Harrelson. He plays the team’s alcoholic trainer and the man who won the 54th annual Hunger Games.
The charismatic Lawrence dominates the movie. If anything, Lawrence — an actress destined for greatness — is under used. She has little to do but look stoic, prepared and determined. Every once in a while, the script lets her cut loose, but mostly her character is restrained.
Hutcherson (The Kids are All Right) — on the other hand — has the personality of a block of wood. He’s boring. But maybe his character is supposed to be boring. If that’s the case, he more than succeeds.
Supporting characters played by Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Wes Bentley, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland either add no energy to the project, or — in the case of Tucci — too much energy.
Of the supporting actors, only Elizabeth Banks sets a balanced plate as one of games’ officials. Whenever tensions rise, she glibly tosses off lines about getting some food or dessert. Banks also seems to be the only person in the production having fun.
The Hunger Games could have used some fun. Not that kid killing is all that fun, but fun for the viewer. Some entertainment, more action early on, and better dialogue. This is especially true for the festivities leading up to the games and the training of the two main characters. They drag down and drag out the film’s first hour.
Then, the gruesome battle begins. It drags out the second hour. You get to know very little about the combatants, so when they are killed in their order of importance to the plot, and in a variety of ways, it’s not all that bothersome or interesting.
The Hunger Games is an intriguing — and maybe even close to original — story weighed down by a plot that is starving for tension. By the time the combat starts, it’s even difficult to root for the film’s two heroes. You never worry about them, their safety or wonder whether they’ll win or not.
The only feeling you have for any of the characters is sympathy for the ill-prepared kids from other districts who are little more than sacrificial lambs led to the slaughter.
Fans hungering for The Hunger Games will be impressed with the meal; awed even. The rest of you will likely like the movie. I did. But when the credits rolled I found myself wondering if — or how — I missed the main course.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence. It opens Friday, March 23 at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.