Building on her performance as a take-no-prisoners teenager in Winter's Bone
, Jennifer Lawrence portrays heroine Katniss Everdeen in Gary Ross's action-oriented adaptation of author-screenwriter Suzanne Collins's young adult bestseller. Set in a dystopian future in which the income gap is greater than ever, 24 underprivileged youth fight to the death every year in a televised spectacle designed to entertain the rich and give the poor enough hope to quell any further unrest--but not too much, warns Panem president Snow (Donald Sutherland), because that would be "dangerous." Hailing from the same mining town, 16-year-olds Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right
) represent District 12 with the help of escort Effie (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and mentor Haymitch (a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson). At first they're adversaries, but a wary partnership eventually develops, though the rules stipulate that only one contestant can win.
For those who haven't read the book, the conclusion is likely to come as a surprise. Before it arrives, Ross (Pleasantville
) depicts a society in which the Haves appear to have stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book and the Have-Nots look like refugees from the WPA photographs of Walker Evans. It's an odd mix, made odder still by frenetic fight scenes where it's hard to tell who's doing what to whom. Fortunately, Lawrence and Hutcherson prove a sympathetic match in this crazy, mixed-up combination of Survivor
, and the collected works of George Orwell. --Kathleen C. Fennessy