The Washington Times Daily - - Life - PETER SUDERMAN

The Hunger Games” is a movie about an au­thor­i­tar­ian world in which un­wit­ting teenagers are thrust into a life-or-death, win­ner-take-all game that un­car­ing adults ma­nip­u­late for their own amuse­ment — and to re­in­force their con­trol. In other words, it’s a movie about how teenagers view high school. Or per­haps the col­lege ad­mis­sions process. Or the per­ils of job-hunt­ing in a strug­gling con­tem­po­rary econ­omy.

Or, if you’d like, for­get the kid stuff. Based on the first book in a tril­ogy of young-adult nov­els by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” main­tains a strictly ado­les­cent world­view. But the con­cep­tual ge­nius of the movie’s un­der­ly­ing sci-fi premise al­lows view­ers to end­lessly spin the wheel of cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal rel­e­vance.

The movie’s po­lit­i­cally di­vided postapoc­a­lyp­tic world takes place in the af­ter­math of a re­bel­lion: The Capi­tol, whose wealthy res­i­dents fa­vor gar­ish neon hair­styles that make them look like hu­man glow trolls, rules the 12 dis­tricts. The outer prov­inces hold the Capi­tol’s semi-en­slaved work­force, kept in line through forced poverty, a heavy po­lice pres­ence — and the an­nual games, each of which pits one boy and one girl from each dis­trict in a tele­vised show­down to the death.

The movie fol­lows Kat­niss Everdeen (a poised and beau­ti­fully an­gry Jen­nifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mel­lark (Josh Hutch­er­son), the two “tributes” from Dis­trict 12, as they make their way to the Capi­tol and com­pete in the game. Along the way, Kat­niss is en­cour­aged to present her­self as Peeta’s lover in or­der to win the hearts of the au­di­ence and po­ten­tial spon­sors.

Their jour­ney is aided by a drunken for­mer games win­ner Haymitch Aber­nathy (Woody Har­rel­son, a de­light­ful pres­ence de­spite an un­der­writ­ten role) and over­seen by a pair of snide TV com­men­ta­tors (Stan­ley Tucci and Toby Jones), as well as the game mas­ter, Seneca Crane (Wes Bent­ley).

With a setup like this, the hot-topic de­bates prac­ti­cally an­nounce them-

selves with bill­boards. Maybe it’s a lib­eral story about in­equal­ity and the class di­vide. Maybe it’s a lib­er­tar­ian epic about the evils of au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment. Maybe it’s a fem­i­nist re­vi­sion on the sci-fi ac­tion block­buster. Maybe it’s a bloody satire of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion. There’s enough “rel­e­vance” here to power ev­ery cul­tural stud­ies depart­ment in the coun­try for a decade.

But don’t start writ­ing your grad­u­ate the­sis yet. Di­rec­tor Gary Ross, work­ing from a screen­play he cowrote with Ms. Collins and Billy Ray, has crafted a movie that is far more adept at sug­gest­ing these big ideas than de­vel­op­ing them. Mr. Ross and his co-writ­ers do lit­tle to ex­plain how, ex­actly, their world works: How do the games con­trol the outer dis­tricts? Wouldn’t they be more likely to stoke re­bel­lion? Do the res­i­dents of the Capi­tol, who seem friv­o­lous but not en­tirely evil, truly have no moral qualms about such mur­der­ous en­ter­tain­ment? Even the ba­sic game mech­a­nisms — like how spon­sor­ship works — are cov­ered min­i­mally.

Mean­while, the scene-by-scene plot­ting re­lies heav­ily on co­in­ci­dence and deus ex machi­nas — when­ever our he­roes need to be ex­tri­cated from a tough sit­u­a­tion, a con­ve­nient so­lu­tion al­ways ap­pears at just the right time.

None of this, how­ever, stops the movie from be­ing ex­ceed­ingly grip­ping; as a bru­tal sci-fi ad­ven­ture, it works with ruth­less ef­fi­ciency. The film’s real strength is ten­sion — punc­tu­ated by out­bursts of kid­die car­nage.

Mr. Ross and Ms. Collins seem more in­tent on push­ing cul­tural hot buttons than ex­plor­ing their im­pli­ca­tions. It’s a tale built to seem like se­ri­ous stuff — but in the end, it’s just a game. TI­TLE: RAT­ING:

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LIONSGATE VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pit­ted against each other in a show­down to the death, Kat­niss (Jen­nifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutch­er­son) are en­cour­aged to present them­selves as lovers.

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