Royale with cheese

“Which way to the beach? Thataway!”

“Which way to the beach? Thataway!”

Rated 2.0

How is it that author Suzanne Collins has no lawsuits pending against her for totally plagiarizing Battle Royale with her The Hunger Games?

She claims to have never heard of Battle Royale, the Japanese novel about kids pitted against each other in a death match that was made into a controversial and great movie back in 2000. That said, the similarities to her novel are undeniable, and the film adaptation of her book plays like nothing but a watered-down version of Battle Royale.

Now, with such a shocking premise—in a futuristic society, children are tasked with killing each other off in a televised competition—one would hope The Hunger Games could at least be something worth taking in, even if its idea is not original.

It’s not a good movie. It’s not even close.

Lionsgate has put their potentially enormous franchise in the directorial hands of Gary Ross, the man who directed Seabiscuit. This film is about a futuristic world calling for an original filmmaking eye with a knack for sci-fi, and they go with the Seabiscuit guy? On top of that, according to some sources, they only give Ross an estimated $78 million to make this epic. That was a lot of money 25 years ago, but it’s chump change in today’s cinematic blockbuster world.

The results are a film that, visually, lacks imagination. The first half of the movie is irritating to look at. Stars like Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Toby Jones don silly wigs, pounds of makeup and prosthetic teeth that make them look like clowns. Everything else around them is drab and unimaginative, so they just stand out and look goofy. Goofy can be OK, but in this story, it’s discordant.

Cast in the role of Katniss Everdeen, a supposedly starving teen who survives on squirrel meat courtesy of her bow and arrow, is the pleasantly robust Jennifer Lawrence. She’s a great actress, but she’s physically wrong for this role. She looks like a very healthy woman in her 20s who eats nutritious snacks every two hours with three squares a day and a consistent workout regimen. She does not look like she’s starving. Nevertheless, she does bring emotional and intellectual depth to the role, so I suppose they could’ve done a lot worse.

I did like Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, chosen with Katniss to represent their district in the competition, called the Hunger Games. He’s maturing into a fine actor.

The games themselves are full of malevolent teens that we get to know absolutely nothing about. They’re just trying to kill each other, and that’s about it. None of the young actors besides Lawrence and Hutcherson really do anything to distinguish themselves.

Ross employs a terrible shaky cam for his action scenes. This is presumably to preserve the PG-13 and mask the violence. It’s also probably because he can’t shoot a combat scene worth dick. The man has a good eye for horseracing, but seems totally clueless with sci-fi action.

Of the adult actors, only Harrelson does anything worth watching, transcending the hilarity of his getup. Tucci, as one of the hosts of the Hunger Games, never gets beyond how stupid his teeth, hair and clothing look. Banks, who plays sort of the mother of the Hunger Games, looks equally ridiculous, and is saddled with a strange, Julia Child accent. Donald Sutherland, as the president, just looks sullen while Wes Bentley … well … who really cares about Wes Bentley?

The film failed to pull me into its world. The Hunger Games comes off as something Lionsgate didn’t have enough confidence in, with Ross trying to shoot a two and a half hour, grand-scale epic with the budget for a 90-minute, moderately priced movie. It looks cheap.

Battle Royale just came out on video in the U.S. for the first time. It’s a far more effective entertainment option if you are looking for a film about futuristic kids battling to the death.

For the inevitable sequels, trade out the director and makeup personnel, and throw some more money at the movies. Don’t worry, Lionsgate, you’ll make the money back.