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With: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcomson, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, Evan Ross, Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Sarita Choudhury, Stef Dawson
Written by: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, Suzanne Collins, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Running Time: 123
Date: 11/21/2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rebel Without a Clue

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

At the end of my review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I wrote that the series was beginning to seem closer at heart to the evil empire of President Snow than to the courage of Katniss. Now it seems as if Katniss has lost altogether. I know that this is only the first half of the last book, and that there's more to come, but in this particular two-hour chunk of cinema, nothing of note happens. Our Katniss is relegated to pouting, hiding, and worrying. Not even the ferociously talented Jennifer Lawrence, whose greatest skill is breathing life into lifeless material, can work her magic here.

Katniss (Lawrence) is now living in District 13, the mysterious "other" district that exists outside of districts 1-12. President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) want her to become the leader of the revolution, which -- so far -- doesn't actually involve any fighting. Rather, it involves making what looks like a movie trailer for a revolution. Her in-studio performance isn't so good, so they send her out in the war zone with a camera crew. Luckily, a hospital gets blown to bits so that Katniss can give a "real" performance of outrage and rebellion. (During this sequence, she gets to fire one arrow, destroying an enemy ship, which is the beginning, and ending, of her activity in this movie.)

The rest of the time, she frets over the fate of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who still seems like a weenie to me. Peeta has been abducted by the president's men, is apparently brainwashed, and appears on TV, trying to squelch the revolution. The movie has a hard time even forcing us to believe that Katniss really has feelings for him, so her pining and worrying seems, at best, false, and at worse, like a cover-up for some further plot twist. Katniss's other potential love interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), also hangs around, but he's equally boring. (By now it's apparent that Liam is the less talented of the two Hemsworth brothers; his greatest skill is the ability to flex his jaw muscles on command.)

Further enhancing the colossal boredom, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) turns up, but is no longer drunk, as does Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who no longer gets to wear her ridiculous makeup and wigs. In one of the most ridiculous scenes, Peeta issues a warning that the capital is launching an attack, and Haymitch's response is: "it's a warning!" Really? You don't say! Katniss's mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister (Willow Shields) are here, but have even less to do than Katniss does. Even a supposedly daring rescue attempt isn't actually shown.

In perhaps the most annoying aspect of the movie, Katniss rescues her sister's cat and brings it back to the bunker that is District 13. The cat isn't allowed, but in the movie's most lifelike moment, Katniss negotiates to have the cat stay in exchange for her services. But the cat is not simply allowed to be a cat. It has to serve as a plot device, being a symbol for Katniss to make a logistic connection, and allowing Primrose something to risk her life for during an attack. The movie can't breathe. It has been structured to death.

The last movie had two Oscar-winning screenwriters, but this one has Danny Strong of the laughably bad The Butler, Peter Craig of The Town, and original author Suzanne Collins. Director Francis Lawrence, who, as far as I can tell, seems to specialize in movies that are both overly serious and not very bright, is also back. Not one of them are responsible for the best three minutes in the movie, and that's Lorde's new single, "Yellow Flicker Beat," which plays over the closing credits. It has more allure and more drama than everything else on the screen.

It's possible that next year's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 will redeem this lump of useless celluloid, which will, nonetheless, probably become 2014's top-grossing movie. But until then, I'll be hungering for something better.

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