katniss.jpgSuccumbing to curiosity, I took in a matinee of The Hunger Games last week to see what grabs the YA audience these days.

The film isn’t great, the acting is hit and miss, but the action is bracing. A fierce sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played by pretty, moon-faced Jennifer Lawrence) takes her younger sister’s place as one of the 24 “tributes” chosen to engage in an annual hunt to the death. She has been chosen along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a young man from her district who is clearly not up to the contest to come.Think “Survivors” crossed with “Lost.”

As the combatants gather, coming from empoverished backwaters to the decadent capital city of writer Suzanne Collins’ best-selling dystopia, we meet a multi-cultural bevy of handlers and mentors who coach Katniss and Peeta with a few key survival skills. The attempts at visually quoting the bread and circus excess of Roman gladiatorial games pretty much fall flat, though it is fun watching Woody Harrelson sporting a long blonde wig.

Everdeen’s an expert with bow and arrow. She’s also resourceful, strong and swift. So we follow her as she outruns, outshoots and ultimately outplays her adversaries, one by one. Uh-oh. We’re also supposed to believe that halfway through this ripping yarn, the tough young woman would actually fall for the wimpy young man.

Sorry. No can do. Talk about lack of chemistry! Hutcherson must be the producer’s nephew, because bad acting, zero screen presence, no chin and itty bitty eyes do not a hero make. But that’s okay, because our young female lead has enough courage for two. And that’s really reassuring after a decade or two of young people avoiding competition and commitment to personal excellence. Maybe postmodernism and its insistence upon generic group social identities can finally bite the dust.

The Hunger Games really has everything good fairytales need—a strong hero(ine), evil adversaries, decadent rulers, gorgeous wilderness scenery, magic (in this case digital magic) and ultimately the overcoming of impossible odds. Kudos to author Suzanne Collins, whose skillful storytelling really deserves a better cast. Still, it’s lingering long in my subconscious.