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The Hunger Games:

Catching Fire & Delivery Man

November 28, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (** ½) PG-13

I must say that the second installment in the continuing adventures of Katniss Everdeen, Catching Fire, is a definite improvement over the disappointing first cinematic chapter in the series. Katniss, of course, is the heroine of author Suzanne Collins’ series of young adult novels that began with the original Hunger Games and continued on through two more books. There was much fanfare when that first film hit theaters in March of last year but I wasn’t impressed. I found it to be quite mundane for a project whose source material offered such promise. Technically, it was also a mess as the final section of the film was filled with so much use of the shaky cam that I wanted to bolt from the theater and head to the nearest drugstore for a dose of Dramamine. This was a big surprise considering that filmmaker, Gary Ross, whose resume sports such highly regarded films as Big and Seabiscuit, was the man behind the camera.

Catching Fire was not helmed by Ross. He opted not to return to the series and maybe that’s for the best. Instead, video music wunderkind Francis Lawrence does the honors and, technically at least, he looks to be a better fit for this material.

Hutcherson, Banks & Lawrence in Catching Fire

He stages most of the film’s pivotal scenes in a straightforward manner and coaxes the best performances from his actors that one could hope for in something like this, though I’m pretty sure that the cast’s thespian skills are not first and foremost on the minds of multiplex audiences.

The plot of the film feels awfully similar to the first one in that once again Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), winners of the previous film’s Hunger Games, are forced to fight for their lives in competition with other previous winners.

The film opens with Katniss and Peeta embarking on a Victor’s Tour. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) determines that the two are getting a bit too popular for their own good and, fearing a loss of control, makes the decision to pit the previous winners against each other in a new and more deadly contest. After nearly eighty (!) minutes of set-up, which could have easily been trimmed to around twenty or so, the final hour of the film is devoted to Peeta and Katniss’ struggle for survival.

One other thing I liked about the film was director Lawrence’s choice of casting in terms of the supporting roles. Among the actors who turn up in these roles are Amanda Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jena Malone. Their presence adds a much-needed boost when the film feels like its treading water from time to time.

The film’s special effects are also much improved this go-round. That’s likely due to the increased budget allotted the film, given the previous installment’s success. Die-hard Hunger Games devotees will likely appreciate those grabbing visuals even if it still seems at times like the whole thing is just going through the motions. Perhaps they’ll finally grab me when we get to chapter three next year. 

Delivery Man (* ½) PG-13

Somewhere in the midst of experiencing the latest excuse for a mainstream Hollywood comedy entitled Delivery Man, I started wondering at what point in his career actor Vince Vaughn just stopped giving a damn. If you share my sentiments and, like myself, have been subjected to sitting through his last several pictures then you’re probably taking note that this isn’t something new. No, Vaughn has apparently been skipping the script reading process of choosing his projects for some time now and opting instead to just cash the paychecks and sleepwalk through his performances. How else can you explain his participation in such a far-fetched and lackluster project as this?

Vaughn’s character is the usual non-dimensional, one note, screw-up that he’s been phoning in for years. In the case of this film he’s David and drives a meat truck for his father’s business. When he’s not behind the wheel of his delivery truck, David is constantly on the lookout for a get-rich-quick scheme, think low-rent Ralph Kramden, if you will. David’s latest scam is growing marijuana in his apartment, but about twenty years ago, he was donating sperm to a fertility clinic, eventually fathering 500 plus kids. Now, David is the target of a lawsuit brought about by 142 of the kids he’s sired.

His lawyer friend Brett (Chris Pratt) advises David not to get involved personally but, of course, he can’t resist the urge. If he had, the audience wouldn’t have to sit through the rest of the film, which would have been great for the poor souls sitting through this half-baked endeavor.

Chris Pratt & Vince Vaughn in Delivery Man

As it stands, David decides to personally get involved in the lives of the majority of his offspring in order to right his wrong. Among them:; a drug addicted daughter whom he cures in the blink of an eye; a son who wants to become an actor and, in the film’s most contrived subplot, a son suffering from what appears to be Cerebral Palsey.

It’s apparent that the scenes involving David and his handicapped son are injected for no other reason than to attempt to humanize David and make the audience sympathize with him. These sequences have the opposite effect as they are so heavy-handed and sickeningly sweet as to induce a diabetic coma among the viewer.

Yet another subplot involves David’s current-and pregnant-girlfriend (Cobie Smulders), who’s blissfully unaware of his previous employment and wants him to prove himself as being father-worthy.  This stuff doesn’t work any better than anything else in the film and adds not much to the proceedings.

Delivery Man is based on a hit Canadian film going by the moniker of Starbuck. It was written and directed by Ken Scott, who also takes the directorial reigns here. I haven’t seen the original film so I can’t comment on it, but I can’t help but assume the original was fine as it was. Delivery Man is such a waste of time that anything would be a welcome alternative.

Both these movies are playing at the Carmike in Hickory and other area theaters.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at



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