I also found it disappointing — not as a near-billion-dollar grosser, but as a movie purported to be both action and science fiction. It’s too inert for the former and not imaginative enough for the latter.
The title references a brutal annual competition staged by the government of a dystopian future, of which this film’s installment is the 74th. One girl and one guy from each of the nation’s 12 districts are chosen via lottery to participate in the “pageant of honor,” which entails killing one another until an ultimate victor is left standing.
As the mature and headstrong Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence hails from the dirt-poor, Little House on the Hillbilly district not too far removed from Winter’s Bone. Volunteering to save her unibrowed little sister, Katniss enters the contest alongside Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) and gets mentored by a drunken Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, Game Change) and Cinna (singer Lenny Kravitz).
Working from the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins, who co-wrote the script, director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) has turned in an needlessly overlong film (all two hours and 22 minutes of it) that plays in two distinct halves. The first is all build-up, with more padding than actual training, leaving one starved for the languid story to be injected with some juice. I’m all for long movies if what’s at work merits it; the first hour does not.
I could not wait to get to the second half, which depicts the actual games. Unfortunately, it’s just a hair better; energy comes in orgasm-short bursts before disappearing for extended stretches of time. Worse, the fights among these youths are shot in such quick-cut, shaky-cam methods, you cannot process the information fast enough to see just what’s going on.
Compare this with Japan’s Battle Royale — the comparisons are too close and numerous to discount — and see how far superior that 2000 film is to this mediocre one: All establishing information is kept to a minimum before throwing its 48 contestants — and the viewer — into the thick of things. No romantic preening, no pep talks, and especially no mani/pedis. In other words, it actually delivers on its title. Games just doesn’t play aggressively enough.
What should be the highlight — Lawrence — isn’t, because either Katniss is sketched too thin or the talented X-Men: First Class actress just isn’t right for the role. I can’t decide; perhaps it’s both. While I didn’t dislike her character, I sure didn’t connect with her, either. And I’m a Lawrence fan.
Although skilled she is at archery, Katniss doesn’t want to kill anyone, but I’d love to see her go after whoever designed the costumes and makeup. I mean, since when did the future mean an explosion of the Project Runway rejects closet? Why all the blue eyebrows and circus beards and powder faces and Amadeus wigs and gold eyelids and overall Oompa-Loompatude of the games’ rulers played by the likes of Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Wes Bentley? It’s the stuff of high camp.
Maybe The Hunger Games‘ toothlessness is all Ross’ doing, in which case his departure bodes well for next year’s sequel, Catching Fire. I’m hoping that the new director, I Am Legend‘s Francis Lawrence, will make the action pop, and that the new screenwriter, 127 Hours’ Simon Beaufoy, will give it the one element of Collins’ novels that is missed most: a soul.
Nonetheless, Lionsgate’s double-disc Blu-ray will satiate this first film’s legion of fans. The entire second disc houses numerous featurettes, including one on Collins’ source material (but with Collins strangely absent); the propaganda short in full, glimpsed only in Games’ background; and the sure-to-satisfy 122-minute documentary on the movie’s making. I enjoyed it more than the feature itself.
It’s not a bad movie — just a rather “blah” one. —Rod Lott