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Movie Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ fails to ignite

I love it when my expectations are fooled. This happened last year, when I reluctantly went to see “The Hunger Games.” It was fun, in all the ways a movie of this genre should be: thrilling and suspenseful and boasting an unusual plot and characters, humor and even a little romance.

So, with eager anticipation, I looked forward to the second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy: “Catching Fire.” Well, dear moviegoers, my expectations were fooled, once again, but not happily so.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” seemed endless. The first half of the movie just may be the longest adventure setup ever. The second half was the adventure: the games. I must confess, I was confused and ultimately bored with the games. I began questioning the reasons, motivations and sense of it all.

In the first “Hunger Games,” I accepted all that was put before me. It was so well done that I just went with it, as implausible as it was. Good science fiction and fantasy creates its own logic and convinces you of its possibilities. “Catching Fire” fails on all counts.

Once again, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is chosen, along with her designated mate Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), to participate in the death games. The issue is the same as in the first movie: how to survive. The rules of the games dictate that there can be only one survivor. As validated victors from former games, rule-breakers Katniss and Peeta were promised to live out their lives in peace and prosperity, as national heroes.

Tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland), sensing rebellion and a possible uprising fueled by Katniss’ defiant attitude, changes the rules and puts our heroes back in the ring. It is unfair, of course, but in this unbelievably oppressive society, citizens have no voice and are at the mercy and whim of their evil leaders.

The games should be thrilling, as in the first movie. Instead, they are lumbering, lacking any excitement or momentum. Characters are thrown at us during the games, without explanation about who they are and why we should care. It was all so muddled.

For excitement and intrigue, may I recommend an episode of television’s “Survivor,” which the “Hunger Games” bring to mind. At least on “Survivor,” the characters and their motivations are clear. Plus, episodes run for only an hour – less, if you fast-forward through the commercials.

“Catching Fire” was long – almost three hours. The absolute worst part of this experience is the way in which the movie ends. Well, actually, it doesn’t end; it just stops.

Evidently, an additional two movies will complete the story. You may be left with the feeling like the one you get when you discover the last page of the suspense novel you have been reading is torn out. You are outraged. You promise yourself you will never buy another book at a garage sale. But that book was probably a quarter. “Catching Fire” costs considerably more than that.

What compounds the heavy going is the dismal look of the film. It lacks the flashes of color and light that are necessary for this kind of movie. Simon Beaufoy’s and Michael Arndt’s screenplay also lacks wit and humor.

The one-note performances are disappointing, considering the cast. Lawrence’s returning as the celebrated Katniss may force her to turn in her Academy Award®. Here, she huffs and puffs and stares a lot. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are absurd in lesser roles.

The other characters’ performances are so one-dimensional, especially the usually fine Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Sutherland, that, in comparison, Sponge Bob Square Pants may stand out as our finest American actor.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is currently in theaters.

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