RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)
These are boom times for stupid YA novels that get armies of teenage girls — and grown women who are teenage girls at heart — to swarm theaters to see the awful movie versions. There’s no offense in making a bad movie out of a bad book, so it’s a can’t-lose proposition for studios.
The next contestant in So You Think You Can Out-Hunger the Twilight Games is Divergent, a dystopian sci-fi tale in which the world (which seems to consist solely of run-down Chicago) has been split into five different frats. Teenagers undergo placement tests, and then get to pledge their frat by stabbing themselves in the hand and dripping blood into a dish as they squint and wear looks that say, “Damn, I wish we had a sorting hat.”
Legend has it that, among the masses of frat pledges, there are some whose tests say they–get ready for this–they don’t belong to any particular frat. Never mind that it doesn’t matter what the test says because pledges are allowed to choose any frat they want. The secret police of Chicago seem to overlook this fact and are really mad that these test failures exist. Even worse, these people apparently can’t even get laid, judging by the special name they are given: “De Virgins.”
The tragically undersexed heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) is understandably freaked out when she tests as De Virgin, so she hides her test results and pledges into the craziest frat of all. That’s the one obsessed with forming grinning flash mobs, parkouring up stupidly tall buildings, BASE jumping, zip-lining and probably slammin’ a Dew whenever possible.
Every bit as brooding and misunderstood as Bellas and Katnisses worldwide, Tris undergoes the long, long process of enduring the frat’s hazing rituals until she is a full-grown member who can hide her De Virginity from the masses. She has the hots for Four (Theo James), who hangs around as an oft bare-chested pledge master who is fond of acting like a gentleman. And secretly crushing on girls while pretending he’s not into them. As well as watching girls as they sleep.
This slow-moving film waits until the last 15 minutes to get around to its plot, and nearly that long to meander around to the inevitable Tris-Four kiss. Making the wait mildly entertaining are some spectacular special effects, decent fight scenes, and an awesome sequence of Ashley Judd (as Tris’s mom) running around like a dude from Contra capping everyone. There are points where you think the movie has gotten all the awfulness out of its system and is about to take a turn for the better, but those hopes vanish like Malaysian planes.
Director Neil Burger–having built an impressive reputation off of The Illusionist and Limitless–sullies his good name with this dull, stodgy mess. The worst news is that Divergent, like all awful YA sagas, is only the first segment of a trilogy, the last part of which will inevitably be split into two doubly long, doubly-awful movies. Hopefully, Burger has the good sense to bail before he does any further damage.
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phifer and Maggie Q. Written by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, based on the Veronica Roth novel. Directed by Neil Burger. PG-13. 139 minutes.