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Review: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

Special to The Chronicle
Special to The Chronicle

4/5 stars

A few prominent series of young adult books have received film adaptions lately. Obviously, the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" series are the ones that come to mind. One struggled to find its feet at first but quickly became one of the best film series ever. The other stumbled, staggered and broke several bones as it came crashing down in a mess of cinematic failure. Two movies into "The Hunger Games," and this series could really go either way. So, will it finish strong like Harry Potter and his wizarding friends? Or will it get caught up in the long, sultry looks and ridiculous romance of "Twilight"?

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” was fun. I was glued to the screen for the entire movie. Whereas the first movie struggled to find its footing a little bit, the second sucked viewers right into an established universe. The visuals were gorgeous and the cinematography jumped between the action sequences and intimate conversations with ease.

But let’s talk about those intimate conversations, shall we? I just have one question: what?! How can such a well-crafted movie in nearly every other sense get away with such horrendous dialogue? For example, there is a scene where Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) approached Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) to talk to her after an argument between them. This is how the scene went down.

Katniss: I’m sorry.

Peeta: No, you don’t have to apologize to anyone…

Dramatic pause.

Peeta: …including me.

Come on, “Catching Fire.” Is this really the best you can do? In another scene, Katniss wakes up from a terrible dream screaming. Peeta comes running in dramatically to check on her. Scared, Katniss asks for Peeta to stay with her that night.

Katniss: Will you stay with me?

Peeta: Yes…

Dramatic pause as Katniss drifts off to sleep in Peeta’s arms.

Peeta: …always.

Honestly, this problem wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it weren’t so persistent. Every other scene was peppered with cringe-worthy dialogue. Let me stress, though, that dialogue was only one of many parts of this film. So, maybe, this is forgivable.

But putting Jennifer Lawrence into this kind of script is something I can’t forgive. As evidenced by her work in “Silver Linings Playbook,” she is a fantastic actress. Even here, she lends a subtlety to the character of Katniss that is very befitting. I could not bear to have her spout this ridiculous dialogue as she threw her patented “smolder” at the two tormented love interests. I’m sure J-Law understands there is a difference between subtle and deadpan. But unfortunately, I found many of the conversation scenes leaning more towards deadpan.

The good news is that this film really didn’t skimp on the supporting cast. While Peeta, Gale and Katniss are fairly straightforward and unexciting, the rest of the cast surges forward to carry this to the level of a great film. Stanley Tucci is absolutely vibrant as talk show host Caesar Flickerman. Complementing Tucci is Elizabeth Banks, who plays the wonderful, equally superfluous Effie Trinket. And newcomer Sam Clafin is sure to capture any hearts that Peeta and Gale have left behind as the devilish Finnick Odair. This isn’t even mentioning Woody Harrelson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland, who lend true depth to what could have been very one-dimensional characters.

I won’t lie. I feel conflicted about “Catching Fire.” Every time I started to fall in love with the film, something stupid was said onscreen or the all-too-dramatic romances were played up even more. With luck, this series won't choose the wrong path in the future because it has the potential to be better than that.


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