Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Apparently modest box-office success is good enough for a sequel these days. After watching our hero Chev spend 24 hours keeping his heart going at lightning speed to fight off a deadly poison in the first Crank we now get the High Voltage follow-up which picks up exactly where the story left off. Chev survives a fall to certain death only to wake up three months later to find a Chinese mobster has replaced his all-powerful heart with a battery-operated device that requires constant jolts of electricity in order to stay alive. He escapes and with intermittent charging from car batteries and phone wires embarks on a marathon chase to retrieve his heart and fight off various bad guys including a Mexican gang boss and a group of Chinese triads led by 100-year-old Poon Dong who desires Chev's vital organs (yes even THAT one) for his own purposes.
WHO'S IN IT?
Jason Statham is back as Chev of course displaying the same combination of kickass frenetic action and dumb comedy that marked the first edition. Forced to act the human equivalent of a Road Runner cartoon Statham gives it his all but it's a stretch to say the least. Everyone else plays mainly one-dimensional buffoons including the moronic hyped-up Chinese stereotype from Bai Ling who has been given lines like: "This dude my Kevin Costner and he gonna beat you off" or "You need me like Whitney Houston dude." Apparently the 17-year-old The Bodyguard was the last movie these screenwriters saw. Clifton Collins Jr. (Sunshine Cleaning) seems to revel in overacting the Mexican baddie El Huron while a really old-looking David Carradine destroys any fond memories of Kung Fu as he plays the jokey Poon Dong. Back from the original are Dwight Yoakam literally phoning his part in as the ever helpful Doc and Amy Smart as Chev's hot girlfriend.
It's in focus.
Moviegoers with the stomach to watch nipples and kneecaps being sliced and diced dumb profane dialogue spelled out in graphic letters on the screen in case you're hard of hearing over-the-top acting and sleazy direction — you all will love it. It's a shame to see the usually solid Statham waste his potential in stuff that aims for the lowest common denominator and hits its target.
MOST CREATIVE SEX SCENE IN A JASON STATHAM MOVIE:
The horny and uninhibited Statham and Smart turn the racing track at Hollywood Park into their own personal motel room as they horse around in X-rated style while the betting crowd cheers them on. We're not sure about Win or Place but these two definitely Show.
MOST PROPHETIC LINE:
During outtakes over the end credits Statham blurts out "It's so hard to keep a straight face!" We were thinking the same thing Jason.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Netflix. But you know skip this and rent the first Crank instead where there is at least a modicum of originality.
Crystal Lake. Dumb kids in the woods. Sex drugs booze. A hulking maniac in a hockey mask wielding a machete. Yeah that about sums it up.
Are you kidding? The new Jason Derek Mears probably fares best among the actors because he doesn’t have a single word of dialogue. Everyone else unfortunate enough to stumble in front of the camera – Jared Padalecki Amanda Righetti Danielle Panabaker Travis Van Winkle – is basically fodder for the slaughter. Some of them get naked. Most of them get dead. Some die more gorily than others. No one dies quickly enough. Having previously (and woefully) directed the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre helmer Marcus Nispel does his best – and worst – to resurrect yet another popular horror franchise from the past. He also adds absolutely nothing new to the formula. Quite frankly anyone could’ve directed this film. Judging by the results anyone did. This is the 12th Friday the 13th film for those keeping score at home and with any luck it’ll be the last. Of course it won’t be. But we can always hope.
In any romantic comedy the ending is something of a forgone conclusion and in this case it's cheesed out to the max with soft focus lensing and cheap repetitive dialogue. With that criticism out of the way the fun of How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is in how the story gets to its inevitable and overplayed climax--and this one's a doozy. Andie Anderson (Hudson) and Benjamin Barry (McConaughey) are two ambitious young creative types. She's a columnist for Composure magazine assigned to write an article about how to lose a guy in 10 days--and she has to do it by perpetrating every dating atrocity known to womankind on her gullible guy. He's an ad exec aspiring to leave beer and sports equipment accounts behind in favor of luxury items like diamonds--and the only way he's going to get there is to win a bet with his boss by making a girl fall in love with him before the big pitch to the client a diamond consortium in 10 days. Andie does everything she can think of to make Ben (aka Benny Wenny Benji Muffin etc.) fall out of love with her while Ben's effort to make her fall in love means he tolerates her every girlie invasion of his life from chick flick marathons to Vagisil in the bathroom to a Celine Dion concert on the night of the MBA finals. The result is an ever-escalating joke that the audience is in on from the outset and it works. Of course I'm a sucker for romantic comedy and if you can give it a quirky twist so much the better I say.
Hudson and McConaughey have marvelous chemistry in this film and you'll love watching them make out make up and generally make each other's lives a mess. McConaughey's such a convincing Casanova that it's easy to see why Andie can't resist Benjamin and even his plotting and manipulations are tinged with a Southern charm that's impossible to fake and easy to love. Hudson too plays her dual role charmingly capturing the Sex and the City coolness of her character's ambitious side while really letting it all hang out as she tries multiple maneuvers to make Ben drop her like a brick--including calling his mother leaving 17 messages on his answering machine in about 17 minutes and buying him a little doggie with a diamond collar and a penchant for peeing on the pool table.
Director Donald Petrie's How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days based on the book by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long succeeds because it makes it easy for us to see ourselves in the roles of the leading characters. How many women have sent a potential Mr. Right running for his manly life by calling too often too soon? I can't think of any that haven't. How many men have stuck around in spite of it? Probably not as many as we'd like but certainly enough that we believe the possibility. And that's really the trick to a good romantic comedy: it has to make us believe that we all have a shot at the fairy tale--at true deep meaningful love--without seeming like a fairy tale itself. The movie has to make us believe we have this chance in spite of--even because of--the obstacles in love's path since in real life they are myriad and often overwhelming. But it's not just the women who can live the fairy tale in this film--men will appreciate the fact that the real Andie Anderson is a rowdy Knicks fan a ravenous eater of bacon cheeseburgers and a fantastic card player. And what guy wouldn't want to identify with McConaughey (who incidentally takes his shirt off to great effect at least twice in the movie)?