Stellar cast left wanting in latest ‘Hunger Games’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, November 19, 2014 4:37pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Suzanne Collins wrote the “Hunger Games” as a trilogy of books, but Hollywood is getting four movies out of it. It worked for “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” so here’s the first half of the finale — hope you like cliffhangers.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” is the full mouthful of a title. Shell-shocked warrior Katniss Everdeen is now also known as the Mockingjay, and it’s hard to know which name is worse. She is played by Jennifer Lawrence, who is devoted as ever to the role but has much less running and jumping around to do in this installment.

There are no actual Hunger Games this time, just the battle between the totalitarian government (led by preening President Donald Sutherland) and the rebel forces. Katniss has been hijacked away into the latter camp, and she’ll become a propaganda star for them.

She’s preoccupied, because love interest Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is being held captive by the president and exploited to denounce the rebel faction. Secondary love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is at Katniss’s side, but the romantic tension between the two is nonexistent.

The team around Katniss is peopled with excellent actors: the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, and Elizabeth Banks — here robbed of her gaudy wigs and day-glo gowns.

This speaks well of the movie, and everybody has moments, especially Hoffman. But watching that cast in “Mockingjay” actually bummed me out a little. All this talent expended on a fairly dull place-holder, a movie that doesn’t even have the horrifying thrills of the Hunger Games (which, as you recall, pitted the nation’s chosen young people against each other in an annual fight to the death).

Director Francis Lawrence, returning from the second film, doesn’t get much energy into the proceedings. Because the story halts halfway through, we’re not sure where Katniss’s sympathies are going to go, now that her image has been exploited by both sides of the conflict.

The franchise is based on a wild idea, and there are still some possibilities to rescue it. But the movies have always felt a little off — the satire mixed with straight melodrama, the cartoonish touches set next to heart-tugging sentiment.

Anyway, we’ll have to wait until November 2015 for things to wrap up. Everybody who cares about “The Hunger Games” is going to see “Mockingjay, Part 1,” of course. But it’s hard to imagine anybody clamoring to see it a second time.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” 2 1/2 stars

The final installment in Suzanne Collins’ book trilogy is split into two halves; this part is a rather dull place-holder, with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) restricted in the amount of running and jumping she can do. Good cast as always, but it’s hard to imagine repeat business for this one.

Rating: PG-13, for violence

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds Theater, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, Thornton Place Stadium 14, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza

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