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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

When fighting for life and liberty, who has time for teen romance?

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

In a dystopian nation of Panem, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence: The Silver Linings Playbook) is considered lucky. The winner of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss was the last woman standing in a government-sponsored death match. With a spark of rebellion, she refused to kill hometown boy Peeta (Josh Hutcherson: Epic), claiming that she loved him and would rather die than end his life. The two were allowed to live as the first pair of winners in Hunger Games history.
    The lovers are paraded around the 12 districts of Panem to give speeches supporting the cruel government. But it was all a ruse to allow both to live while gaining popular sympathy. Now the act is hard to keep up. Nightmares about the violence of the games, burgeoning feelings for childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth: Paranoia) and the tour prey on her. The government is not getting its money worth.
    Unwittingly, Katniss comes to symbolize rebellion. As the downtrodden find hope and take up arms, President Snow (Donald Sutherland: Crossing Lines) plots to quash the rebels by eliminating her.
    So much for her dream of quiet obscurity.
    Snow’s plot depends on a quarter quelling, a Hunger Games fought by previous winners. Katniss and Peeta will compete against a rogues’ gallery of killers including Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin: Mary and Martha), a vicious fighter armed with a trident, and ax-wielding Johanna Mason (Jena Malone: The Wait).  
    Furious and mistrustful, Katniss forgoes alliances and vows to fight to save the only good person in the games: Peeta.
    Catching Fire is an interesting political satire saddled with a sloppy teen love triangle. Katniss’ romantic entanglements sell tickets, but they don’t make a good movie.
Poor Katniss is forced to choose between Gale, whose only memorable trait is his height, and Peeta, who is creepily obsessed. It doesn’t help that Hemsworth and Hutcherson are both boring actors who drag their scenes to a painful crawl. Should Katniss choose the Stalker or the Beanpole? I’m no longer 13, so I don’t care.
    Political intrigue brings respite from the goofy romances of teens. The movie is a joy when Katniss and President Snow begin their deadly chess game. As Katniss tries to determine who her allies are, you get the sinking feeling that she isn’t ready to go from pawn to queen.
    Reclaiming her role as the Girl on Fire, Lawrence once again gives a steely, intense performance as Katniss. Her charm and willfulness hold the screen. Her strength isn’t that of an action movie heroine: she’s often terrified and unsure of the right move. Katniss’ strength is her need to survive and her belief in what’s right.
    Now, if Katniss would just ditch the two losers who want to be her boyfriend, she’d be a great role model for teen girls.

Good Action • PG-13 • 146 mins.