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“Catching Fire,” the middle part of Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy, has a lot going for it.
You’ve got your satire of reality television — the people who make it, the people who participate in it, the people who watch it.
You’ve got your limning of the 1 percent living high off the hog at the expense of the 99 percent.
You’ve got your action-adventure thrills when the Hunger Games resume midway through the movie.
You’ve got your sharp visual direction by Francis Lawrence creating a distinctive sci-fi world that says something about the world we live in, and could be heading toward.
And you’ve got your Jennifer Lawrence, maybe the hottest actress around.
The problem is you don’t got anything that’s particularly different from the first movie in the series, or anything that’s as good as what you can find elsewhere, including Jennifer Lawrence films (“Silver Linings Playbook”). There’s a sense throughout the movie, confirmed by the abrupt ending, that the film is basically treading water till “Mockingjay” is released a year from now. And did we say trilogy? “Mockingjay” is being split into two parts, with the finale scheduled two years from now.
Do you get the feeling you’re being played with here? TV series go on for years, too, but most every episode is expected to be self-contained, not just leave you lusting for the next one.
Oh, you don’t know the story? Suzanne Collins’ smart “Hunger Games” trilogy (aimed particularly at young adults) deals with a post-apocalyptic world in which the miserable proles who survived the war are kept in line with a reality series in which representatives of each village are sent off to do battle unto the death. “Survivor” taken to its logical conclusion. Only one gets to go back home.
But two survive in the first entry — Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), after they threaten to commit suicide rather than kill each other. Fearing a backlash, both are allowed to live and “Catching Fire” picks up with the president (Donald Sutherland) furious that she has become not only a heroine, but a symbol of resistance. Peeta, however, is not her main squeeze; that’s Gale Hawthorne, which sets up a Princess Leia-Han Solo-Luke Skywalker ménage in the making.
Except that Katniss is clearly the warrior here, a combination of Robin Hood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, albeit a reluctant rebel. Lawrence rode this part to mega-stardom, all of which is deserved judging from “Winter’s Bone” and her Oscar-winning performance in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
That she is perfectly good in “Catching Fire” but a shadow of her “Playbook” self is the story of the movie. There’s nothing she does, or it does, that makes you say “Wow.” She is as beautiful as ever, but less so than in “Playbook.” The story and filmmaking is involving, but never gripping. The only surprises are a couple of new secondary characters, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Eversbee, the mad gamesman in charge of the “Catching Fire” games, and Jena Malone as another femme with fatale potential. The rest of the cast, particularly Woody Harrelson, is as good as in "Hunger Games" though Hutcherson perpetually goes about as if he gave up a grand-slam homer to David Ortiz or Shane Victorino.
That said, I’ll be back for “Mockingjay.” Like the politicians who know how to appease the masses, the producers know how to keep us coming back for more. But be careful, Lionsgate. As in Collins’s world, the natives might be getting restless.
This program aired on November 20, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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