Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Running Kids

The Hunger Games       WWW Score: 70%

Consider this to be a first in the now torrent of 'The Hunger Games' reviews hitting the net - I have not read the best-selling book. Now if you believe the hype, that would make me one of roughly five people on the planet in that particular camp but in the world of actualities, we're not talking 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Harry Potter' territory - yet. This non-familiarity is to your advantage, there are no comparisons to be made between the page and each individual frame of film. My take is based strictly on what appears on-screen - the only thing that truly matters when determining whether to surrender two-plus hours of your life. So here it goes: 'The Hunger Games' is a skillfully-crafted but seriously-flawed refurb of a story that suffers from one of the most scathing of all cinematic sins - it's a loooong sit that feels every bit of its 2 hour and 22 minute runtime.

Whether you've read Suzanne Collins' source material or not, it's likely you're somewhat aware of the film's premise: set in a dystopian future, 24 kids aged 12-18 from twelve districts across the land are "reaped" annually to battle to the death with precisely one teen left standing. Upon district escort Effie's (Elizabeth Banks in a ridiculous 'Alice in Wonderland' Hatter getup) pronouncement that Primrose Everdeen's name has been picked out of the fishbowl, her big sis' Katniss (a superb Jennifer Lawrence of  'Winter's Bone' fame) offers to take Prim's spot in "tribute", joining Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson of 'The Kids Are All Right') as reps for District 12 - an area that appears to be poached from Kevin Costner's "epic" 'The Postman'. The residents of said district do without much sustenance though oddly none of them appears to be altogether frail.

Off Katniss and Peeta go, whisked to "The Capitol", its denizens live the good life and for some unexplained reason, sport fantastically spray-painted hair and florescent eyeliner - Ziggy Stardust would be mightily proud. Team D12 gets outfitted with an extreme makeover team consisting of stylist Cinna (a shaky Lenny Kravitz) and ex-participant, now mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson channeling Matthew McConaughey). After a battery of drills to sharpen their survival skills and attempts to snare support from wealthy sponsors, Katniss and Peeta finally get thrust into the fight for their very life via tubes that are essentially human-sized editions of the ones you put your deposit canister in at the bank drive-thru.


The commencement of the "games" is intense - 24 souls either: a) fleeing into the woods or b) racing to pluck weapons from a pile of assorted ammo. The majority of those who pick the latter option get mowed-down in an orgy of violence that unbelievably didn't draw an 'R' rating.  Cannon fire accompanies each death coupled with a projected-in-the-sky profile of who it was that bit the dust. But continuity be damned - filmmakers dismiss that "rule" on numerous occasions - no fewer than four deaths receive nary a blast. What unfolds over the remainder of the interminable movie is not far removed from the plots of any number of movies we've seen enumerable times before - as if we couldn't predict the 'Karate Kid' antagonist-esque alpha male would partake in the final showdown with Katniss and Peeta and the dude's inevitable demise in feasting fashion. The film offers few if any legit surprises and even less emotion - the actors teared up as I stared zombie-like into the screen.

There is little question director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) delivers on his end, the film looks solid even if the majority of CGI shots are held for under five seconds - lest you see the cracks. The hand Ross is dealt is flawed from the start, adapting a book to film form is a Herculean task regardless of the material but it's made Sisyphean courtesy of a retread of a tale that's 'The Running Man' meets 'Lord of the Flies' with a dash of 'Twilight' for tween-adoring measure. Scenes that should fly by are held for minutes longer than they should be - undoubtedly the result of attempting to cram the vast majority of the book in. By the time things eventually (and thankfully) conclude, I was in a state of indifference as the inevitable sequel awaits - whatever.