THE REEL: Cooking with ‘Fire’: Catching Fire reviewed


Ben Conniff

Oscar winning actors are funny, aren’t they?

One moment, Louisville darling Jennifer Lawrence is tripping her way onto the Oscar stage, and the next, she’s back to murdering people in a big budget blockbuster.

Lawrence returns to the “Hunger Games” with other Oscar-caliber actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, who pops up as the new gamekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee.

It feels as if we’ve seen countless adaptations of young adult novels this past year — the most recent of which was “Ender’s Game.” All of the protagonists in these stories are forced to make hard choices, but in “Catching Fire” those choices feels real. While Harrison Ford showed up for nothing more than a paycheck in “Ender’s Game,” the stars of “Catching Fire” help to legitimize the inherent goofiness of its story.

As Katniss starts to realize the repercussions of her actions of the first film, Lawrence seems more up to the task of carrying a big-budget franchise. In “Catching Fire,” Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Northern Kentucky’s own Josh Hutcherson) find themselves dodging the heat from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and growing unrest amongst the districts while on their victory tour.

In “Catching Fire,” the unrest is what’s propelling Katniss and co. back toward the arena. While the running time clocks in at nearly two and a half hours, every action moves the plot forward.

What sets this apart from Gary Ross’s mopey, Appalachian take on the first film is that “Catching Fire” feels much more streamlined. Gone are the days of the shaky cam and gone are the headaches that came along with it.

“Catching Fire” and its new director Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend,” “Water for Elephants”) seem okay with the sheer grandiosity of some of the sets and characters, including a Gatsby-esque party at the President’s home and the vibrant, Candy Land chic of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks).

While screenwriters Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”) pack the script with a heavy dramatic punch, they still relish in poking fun at many of the ancillary characters.

But this time, Banks’ Trinket and Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch are in on the joke, which makes their comic relief even funnier. The cast of supporting characters are rounded out with series newcomers, including Jeffery Wright as Beetee, Jena Malone as Johanna Mason and a middling Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair.

The book “Catching Fire” is such a strong set up toward the final “Mockingjay” that it’s to the detriment of the film that it follows so closely. The climax of “Catching Fire” is brutally violent, emotionally charged and unfortunately — anti-climatic.

Moviegoers will have to wait until next Thanksgiving (and the Thanksgiving after that) to find out what becomes of Katniss and Peeta. But, in honor of the holiday, I’m thankful I get to spend another couple of hours with my friends in Panem.