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Phil is an author, blogger and Twitterer.

RATING: 2.5 stars (out of 4)

The cool thing to do these days is to take offensively awfully written books and turn them into insanely popular movies. The master plan worked for Twilight, and it’s working for The Hunger Games. The key to success is to take an aloof heroine and make her unable to choose between two or more dudes who are always pining for her and passive-aggressively jockeying for her attention.

The Hunger Games may be about eleventy billion times better than Twilight, but still sort of sucks. It’s plagued by idiotic character names, groan-inducing emotional manipulation and performances as stiff as an office worker cruising Miss COED galleries. But at least it’s got Jennifer Lawrence, who is made of pixie dust and spandex and doesn’t take no guff from photographers. Watching Hunger Games flicks is akin to going to awful parties at J.Law’s invitation. After all — as long as she’s around, how bad could it really be?

The answer is plenty bad, but not so bad that you want to leave. Lawrence has this action hero thing down, and is a good enough actress to appear vulnerable while also deadly with a bow, as though it’s Cupid’s and aimed at your own heart. Pity any tributes who have to clash against Katniss Everdeen, who can bring the kind of pain that hurts so good.

Katniss, who, being that she’s still alive after partaking in a battle-to-the-death, made-for-TV reality show, must have been a winner of the first movie’s Hunger Games, is forced back into the fold in the sequel, subject to dastardly plans by the all-controlling government figures (Donald Sutherland and Toby Jones). Their idea to control the populace is about as effective as is at distributing healthcare. They craft elaborate ruses to damage Katniss’s heroine image, each of them catching backfire more than the last. Maybe square one would have been to, I dunno, stop calling the brutal gladiatorial contest, pitting contestants from the starving populace against one another, the Hunger Games. Maybe they should have gone with Battle Royale or The World Cup of Tween Killing. Anything other than reminding the hungry that they are hungry, ya know?

This time out, the games take on a Survivor All – Stars format,  bringing back contestants who have won both Hunger Games and Oscars in the same year for a super showdown filled with invisible force fields, mutant attack baboons and wart – causing poison with an antidote that would make the aliens from Signs facepalm.

Katniss, being the lady pimp that she is, juggles all sorts of suitors. There’s her original gangsta crush, the As You Wish farm boy Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her  stupidly named Hunger Games partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a sassy show off, Gloss (Alan Ritchson) who previously won the games. Unfortunately for Katniss, one of her boy crushes is the first to lock lips with him.

It’s amazing that with all her boy drama that Katniss finds time to go out and murder other contestants, but murder she does. And she’s darn good at it, too. Never mind that the plot points are as predictable and depressing as comment trolls’ bitter screeds, runs longer than the 4 to 5 hour on a workday, or that Lawrence seems to be the only actor really trying. The movie isn’t awful, is sure to please no-standard fanatics and won’t bore haters like myself. If “not that bad” is praise enough to get you to cough up the second mortgage it takes to go see a movie these days, have at these Hunger Games. But bring some popcorn and a catheter attached to a moonshine jug to ensure maximum comfort.

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Toby Jones, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone, Elizabeth Banks and Willow Shields. Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, based on the Suzanne Collins novel. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Rated PG-13. 140 minutes.

  • COED Writer
    Watches movies and games for work, then watches more movies and plays more games on his downtime. A movie and video game critic since 2001, Phil is the author of Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, Stormin' Mormon and Zeta Male. Twitter: @philvillarreal