You really should give every film a fair shake, on its own merit, without comparing it too closely to its competitors. But this film sizes itself up against its competitor “The Hunger Games” so much it’s hard for us not to. Both are based on popular young-adult book series. Both have strong female leads and are set in the dystopian future. Both have super-huge budgets. These filmmakers tried to stick to “The Hunger Games” model by stacking the cast and building a tense, fun-to-watch film. They hired top-tier director Neil Burger (“The Illusionist” and “Limitless”). They recruited fresh-faced and talented Shailene Woodley for the lead. They put gifted actors including Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Ashley Judd and Ansel Elgort around her. Then, they hit some speedbumps. The leading man Theo James and primary antagonist Jai Courtney are just so damn stiff, it’s hard to watch. As these two become more integral to the story, the film begins to flatline to the point of no return. The first half is an interesting tale of disparate futures. The second half is a poor attempt at an action movie. Diverge if you see this one coming – pass.
Once upon a time there was a director named Mark Waters who made a debut film called “The House of Yes” back in 1997. And it was pretty good. But since then, Waters has made a bunch of trash. That leads us to Waters’ most recent film – a paranormal romance about some uppity vampires at a snobby academy. Can you see where this is going? This one is also based on a series of young-adult novels. The best part of the film is lead actress Zoey Deutch (“Beautiful Creatures”). Her voiceovers shred popular culture, including other vampire movies such as “Twilight.” The problem is Deutch is surrounded by a cast of overacting, which surprisingly includes Gabriel Byrne. So if we’re grading on a curve – everyone gets an F. Pass as fast as you can.
And finally, we get to a coming-of-age drama from a male point of view. When young Freddy (Devon Bostick) graduates, he forgoes college to work for his dad (Christopher Meloni) at his used car dealership. The film was written and directed by longtime TV writer Joel Surnow. And he brings out the most in Meloni who’s known for his stints on TV, most recently “Surviving Jack” and “Veep.” There’s a real chemistry between Meloni and Dean Norris, who has also had quite the TV resume – “Breaking Bad” and “Under the Dome.” This film is not a head-turner. There are no big wow moments in it. But Surnow knows his strengths and builds on them throughout. It has some predictable moments, some made-for-TV and not movie moments. But it also has some strong moments, and those strong moments make it barely worth a watch.